Obama signs controversial Farm Bill into law

The Farm Bill, affecting many aspects of nutritional consumerism, was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Feb. 7. This bill was previously passed by the House of Representatives by a vote of 251 to 166, and by the Senate with a vote of 68 to 32.

To reference its wide range of impacts, President Obama called the bill “a Swiss Army knife.” This law had waited two years for enactment and hopes to affect economic reform as well as promote research, growth, opportunity and safety.

The first farm bill legislation was initiated during the Great Depression as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. In 1933, it was passed as the Agricultural Adjustment Act, and gave financial assistance to farmers, with additional clauses regarding a nutritional program. This legislation was eventually set to be amended and updated every five years.

Presently, the 2014 version of this legislation, widely known as the “Farm Bill,” may be more specifically referred to as the Agricultural Act of 2014 and will be enacted over the next five years as a product of the House-Senate Farm Bill Conference. The monetary settlement to support this plan is about $100 billion.

The organization of the text is divided into three broad parts — farm policy reform, food stamp reform and additional regulations. Roughly 15 percent of the total settlement would support the farms, while most of the remainder would go towards the food stamp programs.

“I am pretty satisfied with the new Farm Bill,” said Dr. Shermain Hardesty, extension economist and director of the Small Farm Program at UC Davis, in an email. “It renews support for innovative programs that invest in the next generation of farmers, the growth of local and organic agriculture, and economic opportunity in rural communities. In particular, it provides $444 million of funding directly into beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmer initiatives over the next [10] years, representing a 154 percent increase over the previous farm bill.”

According to the bill itself, the Farm Bill would provide support, training and capital access to farmers and ranchers, strengthen livestock disaster assistance and crop insurance, repeal ineffective dairy programs and fully support specialty crop industry priorities.

“Our Small Farm Program may have increased access to grants to fund our efforts to support our clientele, as well as providing increased funding for programs that our clientele can apply for themselves,” Hardesty said.

Staple crops, including corn, wheat and potatoes, have historically been awarded more subsidies than specialty crops, which include fruits, vegetables and nuts. The Farm Bill promotes specialty crop farming through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as well as locally-grown and organic food production, among other programs.

“The USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program strengthens the market for specialty crops like fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture,” said a USDA spokesperson. “Working with state departments of agriculture, the program helps sustain our nation’s farmers and strengthens our communities.”

A minor portion of the budget will be attributed to environmental cases, including the establishment of a committee within the Environmental Protection Agency to review hazards. Additionally, it includes clarification to the forest industries that the Clean Water Act prohibits forest road pollution.

The majority of the bill funding will go into food stamp reform, which has been highly debated, and subject to criticism.

The Farm Bill hopes to increase assistance to food banks, prevent abuses such as water dumping to exchange empty bottles for cash, pursue retailer fraud and boost employment by engaging able-bodied adults in mandatory work programs.

“We don’t really know how the Farm Bill will affect the Yolo Food Bank, but when I hear other food banks express concern over how they will be impacted and will not be able to serve all who call upon them, I don’t share that same sense of helplessness,” said Kevin Sanchez, the executive director of the Yolo County Food Bank. “If a reduction in CalFresh benefits means that more people will need the services of the Food Bank, then the Food Bank will respond to this need to the fullest of its abilities.”

Other highly controversial segments of the Farm Bill include the prohibition of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients from receiving benefits in multiple states, and in utilizing benefits for medical marijuana. In addition, undocumented immigrants, traditional college students and the deceased will not be allowed to receive benefits.

UC Davis is located in the third congressional district of California, and is primarily known to be an agriculturally-focused university. According to the QS World University Rankings, UC Davis is the number one school in research and teaching for agriculture forestry. Because of these merits and related credentials, UC Davis receives more funding from the USDA than any other university.

“The UC Davis faculty, students and staff have a remarkable passion and dedication to academic excellence, and their agriculture program is the best in the world,” said Congressman John Garamendi in a press release. “Farmers in the Third District and across America will finally have a Farm Bill that meets the needs of agriculture.”

The City of Davis and the surrounding community is greatly influenced by an agricultural industry and environment as well as involved in service and alleviating unfortunate conditions, both of which are impacted by the Farm Bill.

“We are blessed to be located in an agrarian community, one that is deeply supportive of the Food Bank and of its programs. The community of Yolo County is tremendously empathetic and responsive to these types of situations,” Sanchez said.

The community and economy of UC Davis will be affected by the Farm Bill. Specifically, individuals partaking in financial assistance and day-to-day grocery purchases will be subject to changing food administration and supply.

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