Letter to U.S. Senate Regarding the Farm Bill, May 9, 2013

May 9, 2013

The Honorable Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman
United States Senate 
Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Thad Cochran, Ranking Member
United States Senate 
Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking Member Cochran:

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA and the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, take this opportunity to share our priorities for food and agriculture policies as you consider mark-up of the 2013 Farm Bill. We ask that you support a Farm Bill that provides for poor and hungry people both at home and abroad, offers effective support for those who grow our food, ensures fairness to family farmers and ranchers, and promotes stewardship of the land. Limited resources, such as subsidies and direct payments, should also be targeted in the Farm Bill to those farmers and ranchers who truly need assistance to be competitive and successful.

In For I was Hungry and You Gave Me Food: Catholic Reflections on Food, Farmers and Farmworkers, the U.S. bishops wrote, “The primary goals of agriculture policies should be providing food for all people and reducing poverty among farmers and farmworkers in this country and abroad.” The Catholic community brings both principles and depth of experience to the Farm Bill policy debate. We lead a community of faith that is present in rural America and in rural communities around the globe. We know from personal experience how the Farm Bill affects us all, but most significantly, those who are hungry, living in poverty, and struggling to keep farming a viable way of life.

As you deliberate on the 2013 Farm Bill, we urge you to consider the following priorities:

Domestic Hunger and Nutrition: The fact that food is a basic need and a fundamental human right makes food production unique in meeting this essential human need. With continued high unemployment and a struggling economy, the need for adequate funding levels in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and other programs that help hungry people, are essential. Congress should support access to adequate and nutritious food for those in need and to oppose attempts to weaken or restructure these programs that would result in reduced benefits to hungry people.

International Food Security and Development: The Food for Peace program saves people’s lives in times of dire emergencies and combats chronic hunger in poor communities around the world. We have supported reforms to Food for Peace that give implementers more flexibility to employ interventions best suited to local conditions. We have consistently supported increasing cash resources for local purchase and replacing monetization. The Administration’s budget proposed major changes to food aid that would provide similar flexibility. The flexibility added in the Administration’s proposal is a step in the right direction, but Congress must enshrine these improvements in authorizing language that protects the reforms and programs. Congress should also protect funding for emergency assistance and food security development projects.

Subsidies: The Commodity Title was established to provide a safety net for farmers and it is important to continue a reasonable amount of support for our commodity and dairy farmers. In these times of financial hardship, our public policies should call for shared sacrifice. Given current high commodity prices and federal budget constraints, agricultural subsidies and direct payments can be reduced overall, and targeted to small and moderate-sized farms, especially minority owned-farms. Government resources should assist  those who truly need assistance and support those who comply with environmentally sound and sustainable farming practices.

Conservation: Much needed conservation programs have been weakened by reductions and inaction. Conservation initiatives should receive full funding in order to promote stewardship of the land and environmentally sound agriculture practices. The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) provides needed technical assistance and financial incentives for farmers and ranchers to adopt practices aimed at fostering healthy, productive and non-eroding soils, clean air and water, energy savings and wildlife habitat. Congress should consider the public health benefits of improving water and air quality as part of the land management practices covered under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Easement programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) are also important in helping to protect and sustain our abundant natural resources.

Rural Development: Rural communities and small towns are the backbone of the social and economic life of America. Effective policies and programs are needed to encourage rural development and promote the culture and well-being of these communities. We therefore support Value-Added Producer grants to help beginning, socially disadvantaged, and small and mid-sized farms and ranchers. The Rural Micro-Entrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP) and access to broad-band telecommunications services are also essential tools to help rural communities thrive.

In the face of continuing budgetary constraints, the 2013 Farm Bill is an opportunity to address our nation’s broken and outdated agricultural policies. This is a crucial time to build a more just framework that puts poor and hungry people first, serves small and moderate-sized family farms, promotes sustainable stewardship of the land and helps vulnerable farmers and rural communities both at home and in developing countries. We look forward to working with you as you shape the 2013 Farm Bill.


Most Rev. Stephen E. Blaire
Bishop of Stockton
Chairman, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development

Most Rev. Richard E. Pates
Bishop of Des Moines
Chairman, Committee on International Justice and Peace

Rev. Larry Snyder
President, Catholic Charities USA

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
Catholic Relief Services

Mr. James F. Ennis
Executive Director,
National Catholic Rural Life Conference