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What the Farm Bill means to local agriculture – and the environment

The Farm Bill encourages practices that lead to healthier rural lands and waters.
The Farm Bill encourages practices that lead to healthier rural lands and waters.

To say that agriculture is vital to Florida’s economy would be an understatement. Not only is the state the nation’s top producer of citrus, sugar cane, winter vegetables, ornamental plants and sod, but Florida farmers produce 280 different commodities, employ more than half a million workers and generate more than $103 billion in revenue per year.

That’s why local farmers should take note of the Agriculture Act of 2014 recently enacted by Congress. The bill cuts $14.3 billion in farm subsidies over 10 years. However, it also provides benefits for local farmers who are environmentally responsible.

Under the legislation, farmers and ranchers will be eligible for subsidies only when they conserve their lands, including wetlands, grasslands and erodible lands. This is a significant change because previous versions of the Farm Bill encouraged destruction of these areas to plant more crops.

“Even though farm bill conservation program account for just 7 percent of the bill’s overall funding, they encourage practices that lead to healthier lands and waters, and they are critical to a strong economy, healthy and productive rural lands, and vibrant communities,” Mark Tercek, president of The Nature Conservancy, noted in a recent article.

The bill also provides $881 million to continue funding the Department of Agriculture’s rural renewable energy and biofuels programs.

The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) funds up to 25 percent of a renewable energy system (such as solar, wind, biogas) or energy efficiency upgrade and provides additional support through loan guarantees, while the Biorefinery Assistance Program supports companies getting their biofuel technologies started.

There is also more funding for the National Organic Program, which will be used to enforce organic standards, improve technology and negotiate international trade agreements, in addition to funding research on organic farming practices and providing financial assistance for small farms to afford organic certification. Organic farmers, distributors and marketers will now have access to the same agriculture research and promotion programs as conventional farmers. Plus, the bill preserves programs that foster local agriculture like farmers markets.

What the Farm Bill doesn’t address is agriculture’s considerable impact on U.S. carbon emissions – mainly in the form of fertilizers and factory farms. However, it seems to be a step in the right direction.

To learn more about the Agriculture Act of 2014, click here.

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