The Union of Concerned Scientists has issued a report - Ensuring the Harvest: Crop Insurance and Credit for a Healthy Farm and Food Future - that recommends what the group calls "a number of common-sense policies that would help American farmers grow more healthy food for our communities.
The report looks at USDA's push to eat more fruits and vegetables and works to see if farm policies line up. Says Author Jeffrey O'Hara, an agricultural economist with UCS's Food and Environment Program: "Even though those farmers pose a lower insurance risk, the USDA won't give them the same protection it gives to large commodity farming operations."
The group points out that weather makes farming a risky business, so the USDA offers crop insurance, making it easier for farmers to obtain bank loans or credit early in the year to cover the cost of seeds, fertilizer and equipment for spring planting. In the event of extreme weather—from spring frosts to summer flooding—that insurance gives farmers a safety net if their crops are destroyed or their price declines. For many farmers, insurance and credit is the difference between profiting and bankruptcy.
During a teleconference Tuesday, Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, a member of the House Ag Committee commented: "Instead of putting up roadblocks to farmers growing a diverse range of crops and livestock, we need to encourage these farmers and make it easier for them to provide the kind of healthy foods that are good for consumers and good for local economies. The Senate Agriculture Committee is marking up its version of the Farm Bill tomorrow, providing a timely opportunity to level the playing field for these farmers." Pingree is also the lead sponsor of the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act, which would expand farmers markets and provide support for regional farm and food systems.
As the debate over the 2012 Farm Bill starts in the Senate, these issues will be considered. The House measure has yet to be finalized.