Written by Mindy Waite and Greg Bowen

As many readers know, Congress recently passed a temporary Extension to the 2008 farm imageFarm Bill, which will be in effect until September of 2013. Many farmers (and legislators) are unhappy because Congress had been drafting a promising comprehensive Farm Bill overhaul which was passed over in favor of the temporary Extension. However, it should be noted that the extension is not a simple extension of the 2008 Farm Bill. Here, we highlight some relevant differences between the extension and the 2008 Farm Bill and how they may impact Maryland farmers.

 The Good

In Maryland, 2/3rds of all harvested cropland is used to grow corn and soybeans. Direct payments to these commodity farmers have been continued. Indirectly, this may benefit the large chicken industry in Maryland as well, as certainty can help to reduce price fluctuations. The extension also continues dairy price supports.

At least with the passing of the Extension, farmers can move forward with confidence into the 2013 planting season. The 2008 Farm Bill extension also continues most SNAP benefits for those who qualify for food assistance.

The Not-So-Good

Many Maryland farmers and legislators were hoping that the federal government would provide farmers with assistance in installing conservation measures to aid in the Bay cleanup. According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the deal “has the effect of keeping farmers from being able to improve soil and water conservation through enrollment in the Conservation Stewardship Program at the present time.”  In addition, many programs were downgraded to discretionary funding including those supporting organics, energy, beginning farmers, farmers markets, outreach, disaster assistance for livestock, other animals, and trees, and value-added crops.

Unfortunately, because of the budget crunch, analysts expect that few discretionary programs will be funded. As an example, this change in funding could affect farm businesses that wish to expand and previously have been able to use the Value-Added Producer grant to expand into new markets. For example, vineyards have used the grant to successfully launch wineries while milk producers began cheesemaking.

Additionally, Maryland farmers have received financial incentives to undergo organic certification through the National Organic Certification Cost-Share program. Unfortunately, the loss of support for small farm programs may ultimately hurt Maryland’s critical recruitment and retention of new farmers and their use of environmentally-friendly practices.

Maryland is strategically located to benefit from the growing interest in locally-sourced food. It is also being challenged to improve Bay water quality, which will benefit the seafood industry. We hope that the new Farm Bill helps Marylanders move forward in these areas.