As the 2012 Farm Bill debates heat up, it is imperative that we begin to look beyond the traditional five-year timeframe that this legislation establishes. Instead, we must consider, on an ongoing basis, what it will take to shape the sustainable, resilient food and agriculture system that we all want and need for the future. Maintaining healthy, productive and profitable U.S. farming and ranching operations is an important element of our future food and agriculture system. Public policy and government support must go well beyond risk management tools and income guarantees for today’s farmers and ranchers.
And others must be engaged in the search for solutions. Civil society and private sector engagement and participation are vital for a successful, holistic and sustainable food and agriculture system. Through collaboration, investment and innovation among all stakeholders, we can develop and meet a new vision for agriculture, one that addresses our future needs, concerns and challenges.
For example, how can we better address the emerging threats of crop and livestock diseases and pests, water scarcity and quality, soil degradation and land conversion, potential over-use of toxic and persistent chemicals, weather variability and temperature changes, persistent hunger and malnutrition, and food-borne diseases? How can we better promote health and nutrition in our communities? What roles do we expect farmers to play in assuring our global energy future? How might the environmental stewardship efforts of producers and livestock owners be better recognized and rewarded? What role do urban centers and rural economies play in the sustainable demand and supply of food? What incentives will motivate a new generation of young people to take on the risks and challenges of farming? In order to address this broad range of concerns, we need to make serious decisions about public spending priorities.
Given the current U.S. government budgetary pressures, there will be strong Congressional interest in cutting food and agriculture programs in the upcoming 2013 federal budget while protecting the status quo as much as possible. It is also possible that the Farm Bill could lock in these cuts for the next five years. This short-term, budgetary stance risks cutting programs that are vital to our global security and stability.
Instead, a new perspective and approach is needed. Not only do we need to look beyond the Farm Bill’s five-year timeframe, but we also need to spur innovation in our current food and agriculture system so that it can address the challenges ahead, including those posed by growing populations, climate change, disease and contamination, and the prevalence of toxic chemicals.
The calendar for the current Farm Bill may be too rushed to fully engage the breadth of voices prepared to challenge the status quo. However, now is the time to connect and challenge leaders from diverse communities to develop a vision for a better food and agriculture system and define the actions and policies needed to achieve it.
AGree is doing just that. For the first time ever, a broad group of voices are joining together to expand the food and agriculture debate and look at the issues in a more integrated manner. We’re looking at the system in a holistic and integrated way with a view towards the demands of the next generation. AGree’s mission and efforts are funded by some of the largest U.S. Foundations, who have come together in an unprecedented way to support this bold work. Their involvement demonstrates our unified belief that food and farm issues are among the most important ones faced by the U.S. and the world.
AGree is still in its early days, but already our discussions suggest that four goals must frame our future discussions and solutions. These include: meeting the future demand for food; improving nutrition and public health; building stronger rural communities; and conserving and enhancing water, soil and habitat. If the Farm Bill debates were to focus on these same four goals, there could be real progress toward transforming U.S. food and agriculture policies and programs in ways that would promise better lives and a better future both at home and abroad. Whatever the outcome of the 2013 Farm Bill debates, AGree intends to continue to search for solutions.
We’re in it for the long haul.
Dan Glickman, Former Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Gary Hirshberg, Co-Founder and Chairman of Stonyfield Farm
Jim Moseley, Former Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Emmy Simmons, Former Assistant Administrator for Economic Growth, Agriculture, and Trade, U.S. Agency for International Development
This article originally appeared on The Hill's Congress Blog - Beyond the 2012 Farm Bill: In it for the long haul