WASHINGTON, D.C. – An amendment sponsored by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to support rural development cleared the Senate Tuesday with bipartisan support by a vote of 55-44. Brown’s amendment to the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act – or the 2012 farm bill – would fund critical U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development programs that help Ohio communities update wastewater and sewer infrastructure systems, provide access to capital for Ohio agricultural producers and small businesses, and provide technical assistance to beginning farmers and ranchers.
“Strong rural communities and a thriving rural economy demand investment in business development and basic infrastructure. My amendment is about job creation, economic development, and the future of rural America,” Brown said. “And today, by passing my amendment, the Senate acted to create jobs and promote economic growth in rural communities.”
Brown’s amendment funds critical programs:
- Value-Added Producer Grant Program (VAPG), which provides working capital and business development funds for on-farm and local value-added processing and development of mid-tier value chains. Brown’s amendment provides $50 million in funding to VAPG. The 2008 farm bill provided $15 million in mandatory funding along with an authorization for an additional $40 million in annual discretionary funding. The bill passed by the Senate Agriculture Committee did not fund the VAPG program.
- Rural Micro-entrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP), which provides financial assistance to businesses with fewer than 10 full-time employees to support the development of entrepreneurial activities in rural areas. The program requires a 15 percent match and is targeted towards those who could compete in the private sector but lack access to credit and have limited equity capital options. Brown’s amendment provides $15 million in funding to RMAP, which was created in the 2008 farm bill and authorized a total of $15 million mandatory funding. The bill passed by the Senate Agriculture Committee did not fund RMAP.
- Water/Wastewater Backlog which provides technical and financial assistance for water and wastewater infrastructure upgrades in small towns and communities in rural areas. Brown’s amendment provides $50 million in funding to reduce the backlog. The 2008 farm bill provided $120 million in mandatory funding. The bill passed by the Senate Agriculture Committee did not provide any funding for the water/wastewater backlog.
- Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), which provides competitively awarded funding through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) for education, extension, outreach, and technical assistance initiatives directed at helping beginning farmers and ranchers of all types. Brown’s amendment provides an additional $35 million in funding to support BFRDP. The 2008 farm bill included a total of $75 million in mandatory funding. The bill passed by the Senate Agriculture Committee expands eligibility to military veterans and funds BFRDP at $50 million. Brown’s amendment brings total funding for BFRDP to $85 million.
More than 185 organizations have expressed support for funding for these rural development programs, including: National Association of Counties, National Association of Development Organizations, Farmers Union, Farmers Market Coalition, National Rural Water Association, National Young Farmers Association, Association of Towns and Townships, National Association of RC&Ds, National League of Cities, National Rural Housing Coalition, Rural Community Assistance Partnership, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Center for Rural Affairs, American Public Works Association, and League of Rural Voters.
The Senate’s bipartisan 2012 farm bill represents the most significant reform of American agriculture policy in decades. The farm bill saves taxpayers $23.4 billion. The centerpiece of the deficit reduction measures in the bill – based on the bipartisan Aggregate Risk and Revenue Management Act (ARRM) Brown authored with Sen. John Thune (R-SD) – would end the era of paying farmers for crops they do not grow. These “direct payments” would be replaced by a market-based system that relies on current crop-year data, market prices, and actual yields. Brown’s amendment is paid for through savings from Brown’s ARRM provision.
Brown, Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Jobs, Rural Economic Growth and Energy Innovation, fought for provisions in the Senate’s 2012 farm bill that bolster rural economic development, overhaul the farm safety net by ending the era of paying farmers for crops they don’t grow, and ensure access to healthy and affordable food.
Over the last year, Brown convened a “Grown in Ohio” Listening Tour around the state to meet directly with farmers, business leaders, and community officials in advance of Senate consideration of the Farm Bill. These meetings have guided Brown’s legislative priorities. The Senate bill reduces government spending by $23 billion while reauthorizing risk management, conservation, nutrition, trade promotion and research programs on which nearly all Americans depend. Without action these programs are set to expire at the end of September 2012.