The Farm Bill re-authorization process has officially kicked off in Congress. Now is a good time to get caught up! This is one of a 4-part blog series in which we will highlight some of the programs that are important to our regional food system and how they should be treated in the 2018 Farm Bill.
Farmers need easy access to cutting-edge research to meet future productivity challenges. Farm Bill’s Research and Extension title contains tools and resources for our farmers to do just that. Research and extension programs need more funding to help new and established farmers build resilient, thriving farms that will feed us all.
For instance, The Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education grant program, SARE, supports farmer-driven research, helping farmers to identify innovative, sustainable farming methods.
Nationally, 79% of producers report improving their soil through SARE grants. In Missouri and Kansas, 248 producers have received SARE grants since 1988, for a total of $7.8 billion in grants.
Linda Hezel, steward of Prairie Birthday Farm in Clay County, was able to compare strategies for extending the growing season when growing in raised beds.
Despite all this, SARE is one of programs whose funding expires with the 2014 Farm Bill.
Meanwhile, funding for extension programs also needs work. The current funding formula for extension programs isn’t serving Kansas and Missouri farmers. Funding should be based on needs rather than population so that state programs can reverse the declining number of county agents who help farmers where they are and build diverse, resilient regional food systems.
We repeatedly hear from growers who need training or technical assistance with things like food safety regulations, financing and marketing. These are some of the challenges that extension programs can help address.
The new Farm Bill must ensure extension programs can meet current farmer and community needs by resolving funding formula problems.