WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is working on a multi-part marker bill that, among other things, is designed to help farmers identify and reach new markets for their products.
The marker bill, introduced in October by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) and Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.), is popularly known as the Local FARMS Act. Its official name is the Local Food and Regional Market Supply Act.
“We’ve been actively working with the sponsors of the legislation for a year-and-a-half,” said Wes King, a policy specialist at NSAC. “We worked with many of the same people on previous similar legislation that, for the most part, made it into the last farm bill.”
He explained a marker bill isn’t designed to be signed into law. Rather, it’s hoped the provisions of a marker bill will be included in the farm bill, which is a multi-part construct. King said NSAC is trying to expand the Local FARMS Act into the Market and Local Food Promotion Program.
“We’re trying to make things more efficient and streamlined,” he explained. “We’re trying to consolidate some different programs into one expanded program.”
According to NSAC, the local and regional food sector was once considered to be a niche market, but no longer; it’s expected to grow to $20 billion in sales by 2019. However, many of the USDA programs that help to drive the growth are farm bill components that lack permanent baseline funding and, as such, must be renewed in each farm bill.
NSAC describes the Local FARMS Act as a bicameral and bipartisan bill that calls for the creation of a new Agricultural Market Development Program (AMDP) to consolidate two existing local and regional food economy programs – the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, and the Value-Added Producers Grant Program. It would establish permanent farm bill baseline funding, NSAC says.
The new AMDP would continue the goals and purposes of existing programs, address gaps and new opportunities not currently addressed by the existing programs, simplify the application process and the reporting and evaluation process and encourage greater collaboration between the private and public sectors.
The new program would be administered through USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and would include some money to be directed to the Cooperative Extension Service for personnel to assist with general technical assistance, outreach and value-chain coordination, according to NSAC.
Also, the AMS would be given authority to work with other agencies and organizations on outreach and technical assistance.
The Local FARMS Act is just one of NSAC’s campaigns for the 2018 farm bill. The group’s overall farm bill platform, as stated, includes the goal of building a better future for family farms by cultivating the next generation of farmers and ranchers, enhancing entrepreneurship by bolstering farm-to-fork food systems, advancing natural resource stewardship, investing in 21st century seeds and research and strengthening the farm safety net for all farmers.
More about NSAC’s goals can be found on its website at http://sustainableagriculture.net