Lightsey Farms - Hands with Texas box and Peaches

Update on Current Food and Agriculture Policy

Over the past two months, the food system has seen tremendous disruption. While grocery stores struggled to fill their shelves, it has become more apparent that the industrial food system is as delicate as it is complex. More people in our community are relying on local farmers as a main source of food - this has been critical to helping these small businesses stay afloat.

An article published on The Counter last month describes the “avalanche of sudden growth” that small farms have been experiencing during the first few weeks of the pandemic. Here in Austin, our SFC Farmers’ Market team is hearing words of gratitude from farmers each weekend. If you’ve visited the market recently, we’re sure you have too.

That said, we need policies at the state and federal level that will help make sure farmer and rancher businesses can be sustained through the pandemic and will continue to thrive in the long term. There are several pieces of legislation moving at the federal level that will influence this. Read on for some timely updates as we monitor action at the federal level.

USDA updates:

The final version of the USDA aid package for farmers, comprehensively known as Coronavirus Food Assistance Package (CFAP), was released on Tuesday, May 19th. Last month, we offered some background and initial analysis of aid packages for farmers that were expected to come through the USDA.

CFAP calls for 16 billion in payments to farmers. This marks the single biggest payment to farmers in US history. The application window is relatively short, and farmers will need to prove loss of volume using a payment calculator on USDA’s website. As it’s designed, the program will be restrictive for small, diversified farmers.

We will share resources and information as they become available. In the meantime, our partners at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition shared an initial review of the program in a recent blog. Stay tuned for timely updates on CFAP!

House/Senate updates:

Last Friday, the House passed the HEROES Act, their version of the next Congressional pandemic aid package. While it is a great start, it does not specify aid specifically for local and regional food producers, nor underserved producers. It also does not specify any relief for small meat processing plants, which are critical components of a viable local food system. Another key piece that we see is lacking are specific funds that would encourage food banks to purchase directly from local producers.

The Senate is expected to draft its version of a pandemic relief package in the coming weeks. During this time, we will focus on trying to get some of the priorities that were omitted from the House version into the Senate version. Several bills have already been introduced that hope to address these gaps, as well. There is a good chance that we can reach a compromise that can be beneficial for the interests of producers who are a vital part of our local food system.

While CSA supporters and farmers’ market shoppers have provided tremendous support to small farmers during the early days of the pandemic, there must be policies in place that support the stability and growth of these businesses.

What’s Next?

We feel confident that there are opportunities to influence policy decisions that will support local producers. We are inspired by the growing awareness of the importance of participating in a local food system, by buying directly from local farmers, and growing some of our own food. It is critical that policies are enacted and funds are allocated in such a way that will sustain local food systems and make it possible for small and marginalized producers to access these funds.