Roundtable panelists explain threat to Farm Bill

By Kathryn Lewis
Outlook writer

Some of the most knowledgeable people in agriculture delivered a message last Friday about the urgent need to pay attention to potential cuts to the Farm Bill that could affect livelihoods or even having food on the table.

They spoke at a Food Assistance and Nutrition Expo and Round-Table held at FAMU.  Billed as the HBCU All-Star Ambassador for White House Initiatives, the event was intended to raise awareness about potential cuts if the Farm Bill gets killed.

The urgency in getting the word out on endangered programs is real, said Dreamal Worthen, a professor in FAMU’s College of Engineering Sciences, Technology and Agriculture.

“If you can help get the word out, it’s going to be very essential,” said Worthen, while suggesting the engagement of community organizations and other groups.
President Donald Trump’s budget would wipe out the 1890 Family Nutrition Education Program (FNEP) funding, she said.

“That will have a seriously adverse impact on the communities in which we go in,” Worthen said.  “If our funding goes away; not just talking about the jobs here for the people that are employed, my greatest concern is for those individuals in the community who we have a direct impact on.”

The list of assistance through the Farm Bill that are at stake are food stamps, free school meals, and the EBT program. The fate of those programs continuing rest with the Congress.

More than $200 million could be cut over the next decade if negotiations currently in Congress holds true. That was part of the message brought to FAMU students who have stakes in the Farm Bill program.

“Students and the rest of you, when you hear them talking about ‘we’re going to cut $200 billion out of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) over the next 10 years,’ they’re not talking about cutting some apple juice company,” said Charles Magee, a biological systems and engineering professor at FAMU. “They’re talking about WIC (Women, Infants, and Children), school lunch programs, the school breakfast program, senior citizen feeding programs. You need to pay attention.”

Extension of the Farm Bill was last signed by former president Barack Obama in 2014. It expires every five years.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that renewing the Farm Bill would come with a $489 billion price tag over the next five years. The Bill covers 80 percent of nutritional programs. Crop insurance, conservation, and commodities accounts for another 19 percent.

The roundtable discussion also was an opportunity for panelists to explain what they know about current negotiations on the bill.

“The 2018 Farm Bill is still a mystery,” said David Sweany, a representative of USDA. “We won’t know what it looks like. “They are having Farm Bill meetings across the nation now.

“This may sound a little bit tongue-in-cheek, but we need young people that realize how important agriculture is to the world and communities. Agriculture has a huge, huge industry and it’s not just farming anymore.”