What would you like in the 2012 Farm Bill?

We’ve got a bit of dead time, here at the end of 2011, before work starts in earnest again on the 2012 Farm Bill.

By Peggy Lowe.

Since the so-called secret Farm Bill – drafted by select congressional committee members behind closed doors – flamed out when the super committee’s budget compromise plan went down, everyone has wondered just when work will begin again.

This week, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, said Congress will get back to work in January, according to this story in USA Today.

Which leaves us just enough time to write one ourselves.

I asked you via the Harvest Network what you’d like to see in the 2012 Farm Bill.

Maria Stewart of Lebanon, Kan., went right to the heart of the issue: subsides.

“The farm bill can be trimmed down by eliminating all subsidy payments to farms and corporations making over $500,000,” she wrote. “Part of the savings should go to programs promoting and supporting local, organic food systems.”Of course, everyone expects direct subsidies to be replaced by another version of safety net – crop insurance. For a good explanation of that issue, read Harvest reporter Kathleen Masterson’s story.

Leah Stephens of Independence, Mo., also wants to see some support for organic and small farms.

There needs to be subsidies for new farmers who use organic methods, and there needs to be incentives for farmers to switch to organic farming. Small-scale farming needs more support, and tougher regulations need to be placed on CAFO's and big agricultural processing plants. If we do not address the issues of environmental damage from pesticides, fertilizer, and soil death due to industrial agriculture, we will be faced with a disaster in the future.

We also asked our friends on Facebook for their comments. David Hollis went right to the point:

Reduce or kill subsidies. Encourage/Support small scale farms; encourage local and/or regional foodscapes.

And Christopher Pawelski said he is getting behind a program that encourages responsible conservation on muck soil, first introduced last year by two New York congressional representatives.

(What the heck is muck soil? According to a statement from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s office: "Muck soil is a special type of soil farmed to produce onions, potatoes, lettuce, celery, and other specialty crops. This soil develops a thick organic layer of topsoil that is highly vulnerable to erosion when the lands are exposed to air.")

The discussion is far from closed -- and hey, we have a month! -- so if you have some ideas, please give me a shout or click on our query and talk to the Harvest Network.

And if you need any background information, please check out our special page, Eye on the Farm Bill, where you’ll find lots of stories we’ve already done. We’re updating it every time we add more content. 

Peggy Lowe reports for Harvest Public Media, an agriculture-reporting project involving six NPR member stations in the Midwest. For more stories about farm and food, check out harvestpublicmedia.org.