Over 40 agriculture and rural development groups sent Senate and House agriculture committee leadership a letter, dated August 30, urging passage of a new farm bill.

The groups’ efforts were backed by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The letter, he said, is another attempt “to get Congress to do its work. (That would) provide the certainty that producers need, want and should have.”

The letter reads:

“We are writing to bring forward the recommendations of rural stakeholders who believe that a robust Rural Development Title in the next farm bill is critical to creating jobs in rural America and ensuring the success of the next generation of farmers and ranchers.

“Our organizations commend you and your colleagues who are working to pass a bipartisan five-year comprehensive farm bill rather than a limited extension. An extension of the farm bill will end mandatory funding for rural development, renewable energy and beginning farmer/rancher programs. It will also eliminate the many positive policy changes found in the current Senate and House bills that will lead to greater return on federal investments and better projects at the local level. Our nation cannot afford to eliminate these critical investments or miss this opportunity to make positive policy reforms.

“We will continue to urge House leadership to bring the Farm Bill to a floor vote in early September. However, in the absence of a House passed bill, we urge you to conference the  Senate passed Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, S. 3240, and the House Agriculture Committee passed Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act, H.R. 6083.

“We also urge you, in any conference negotiations, to support the following provisions within the Rural Development title that reflect the policy changes that are supported by our organizations and the rural people, places and businesses we represent.”

Funding Level

“We urge you to support at a minimum the $115 million mandatory funding level in the Senate bill for the Rural Development Title and to reject the $1.5 billion cut in authorization levels found in the House bill. We applaud the House and Senate’s investment of $50 million in mandatory funding for the Value Added Producer Grant Program, though urge you to seek ways to increase it to $20 million a year in conference. We also urge conferees to support no less than the Senate level of $15 million in mandatory funding for the Rural Microenterprise Assistance Program and the $50 million in mandatory funding for the over $3 billion water/wastewater backlog.

The funding levels for rural development programs represent a $35 million or 23 percent cut from the 2008 farm bill and is 72 percent below the average $413 million in mandatory funding provided in farm bills passed since 1996. This title has contributed well above its fair share of the cuts needed for deficit reduction and is slated for percentage cuts far in excess of any other title by a multiple factor. We therefore urge you to seek ways to increase RMAP and water/wastewater backlog funding during conference and to also reject the proposed 50 percent cut in authorization levels.”

Policy Changes

“Our organizations have spent the past two years researching the ideas and suggestions of our members regarding policy changes that will ensure federal rural development programs are improved. We urge you to support the common sense policy improvements we have gleaned from our memberships during any conference negotiations. This will ensure that federal rural development investments are more effective and responsive to rural priorities.

“Below is a list of policy changes that we urge you to support in any conference negotiations.

  • The Senate bill organizes the Rural Development title into a more simplified format that is easier for rural stakeholders to understand and will ensure better program delivery by the USDA. We urge conferees to support this approach.
  • Sec. 3702 of the Senate bill makes rural development programs more focused on funding the strategic economic and community priorities of rural stakeholders as they have requested. This is a critical policy change that will assist all rural communities in making sure that USDA takes into consideration the strategic projects of rural areas.
  • The House bill requires USDA to improve program metrics that will lead to better program evaluations and increased effectiveness of funding decisions. We support this good government policy change.
  • Both the House and Senate require the application processes to be streamlined for rural communities, people and businesses, and this policy change should be maintained.
  • The Senate’s authorization of Technical Assistance funding for the Community Facilities Program is critical to helping communities lacking the capacity to apply for sophisticated facilities projects.
  • We support the set aside for local and regional food systems under the Business and Industry Loan Program that is found in both versions of the bill, but oppose the 7 percent cap found in the House bill.
  • The Rural Business Opportunity Grant Program and Rural Business Enterprise Grant Program are effective at leveraging local resources to create rural jobs.  At a minimum, the functions of each program should be maintained and the Senate authorization level of $65 million annually should be supported.

“Thank you for your attention to these important matters. Our organizations have individual positions on other provisions of the Rural Development Title and the farm bill in general. However, the provisions outlined in this letter represent consensus priorities of all of our organizations. We urge you to support these important recommendations that provide policy improvements and continued investments in rural economic development, which will underpin and enable economic growth in rural communities throughout America. We look forward to working together on this important matter for American agriculture and America’s rural communities. We also pledge our continued support in advocating for a multi-year farm bill.”

The letter was signed by:

American Forests

American Planning Association

American Public Works Association

American Federation of Government Employees Local 3354

California Center for Rural Policy

The Carsey Institute

C B Enterprises & Associates, Inc

Center for Rural Affairs

Comite De Bien Estar, Inc.

Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED)

Council of State Community Development Agencies

Farmworker Association of Florida

Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund

Generation E Institute

Indian Nations Conservation Alliance

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

League of Rural Voters

Main Street Project

Michael Fields Agricultural Institute

National Association of Counties

National Association of Development Organizations

National Association of Regional Councils

National Association of Resource Conservation & Development (RC&D) Councils

National Association of Towns and Townships

National Center for Frontier Communities

National Catholic Rural Life Conference

National Grange

National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association

National League of Cities

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

National Rural Development Council

National Rural Health Association

NeighborWorks Umpqua

Northern Initiatives

Northwest Farm Bill Action Group

Organizacion en California de Lideres Campesinas, Inc.

Partners for Rural America

Rooted in Community

Rural Coalition/Coalición Rural

Rural Community Assistance Partnership

Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education, Inc.

Team New Age Movement

The Watershed Research and Training Center

Tilth Producers of Washington