The letter below is from Sen. Bernard Sanders to a Vote Hemp supporter in reply to a letter asking him to support Sen. Ron Wyden's industrial hemp amendment to the Farm Bill.
Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-VT)
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June 15, 2012
Thank you for contacting me about the upcoming Farm Bill legislation. This is a very important piece of legislation and I appreciate the opportunity to discuss it with you.
A new Farm Bill is passed every five years in order to develop and support agricultural programs across the country. Agriculture forms the backbone of Vermont's economy which is why the Farm bill is a high priority of mine. With the current climate in Washington, it may be difficult to pass the Farm Bill this year, but let me assure you that I will fight to pass legislation that benefits farmers throughout Vermont, and looks to a more sustainable and healthier future for America as a whole.
There are many things that I hope to accomplish in the 2012 Farm Bill. Dairy stabilization, improved nutrition, conservation, local organic and value-added farming, and energy generation on farms are all things that I will advocate for in the upcoming legislation.
One of my top concerns is to maintain and strengthen the dairy industry in Vermont. Milk is a very volatile commodity., W hen the milk supply spikes, the price farmers receive for their milk from the processors plummets , t hough it is not reflected in stores In order to compensate, farms are left with no choice but to milk more cows and hope the greater volume of milk sales will make allow them cash flow . This exacerbates the problem, and usually the market only stabilizes when enough farms are driven out of business to cause the supply in milk to drop.
In order to tackle this problem, we really need to reduce market volatility. Language in the Farm Bill has coupled insurance margin protection program with a market stabilization program. If farmers choose, they can buy into an insurance program that will pay farms in order to make up the difference when milk prices are low. In order to participate in the insurance program, each farmer also agrees to cut production by 2-3% during supply spikes. This way, the market will have a chance to stabilize before farms get driven out of business, and the farmers will have a safety net to tide them over during peaks in supply.
One of my hopes for this Farm Bill is that it promotes small local farms. Programs supporting organics, specialty crops, and value added agriculture will help small farmers develop best practices and sound business strategies. The Senate's version of the Farm Bill would provide a 27% increase in funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, which helps increase the competitiveness of local farmers and works to increase access to local produce in low income areas. In addition, the legislation more than doubles funding for programs for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, which supports research into new growing and business methods to help local farmers. The Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Act helps young farmers enter the trade. It provides loans for land, equipment, and other expenses, as well as assistance in forming an solid business plan. Not only are small farms good for local economies, they are also good for the environment, and provide fresher food. Vermont relies on small farms, not unsustainable agribusiness, and I intend to see that the 2012 Farm Bill contains legislation benefiting our small family farmers.
Conservation and energy are also priorities of mine. These programs provide vital support to help farmers combat soil erosion, protect water quality and ensure our agriculture practices are sustainable. In my view, these conservation programs have greatly benefitted Vermont farmers, and I will work prevent the proposed cuts. Energy development on farms is also important to many farmers. Several farms in Vermont have been able to make use of methane digesters to use the methane in manure to generate electricity for the farm, reducing electrical costs.
Another concern is nutrition. Many Americans are relying increasingly on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to get by. The job market is still very tough, and many people find themselves short of food at the end of the month. In times like this, I find in unconscionable to even consider cutting SNAP benefits. To do so would take the food out of the mouths of our most vulnerable citizens, many of whom are either young children or elderly. I will do my best to protect SNAP from any cuts.
I also want to improve nutrition across the country. Obesity continues to be a problem, and to combat this I recommend that we promote local, healthy food, available to everyone. I support programs like Farm to School, to bring fresh vegetables to children in school lunches. I also support Expanded Access to Farmers Markets, which will allow the use of SNAP benefits in farmers' markets. This way, people receiving SNAP benefits will have greater access to healthy, fresh vegetables. This also guarantees that SNAP dollars will go to neighboring farmers, stimulating the local economy as well and feeding the hungry.
Vermont, along with the rest of the country, needs the 2012 Farm Bill to promote local, sustainable agriculture that will feed our people, provide jobs, and improve the economy. Thing like access to farmers' markets, dairy stabilization, and conservation are all elements of a more successful future for Vermont and the nation as whole. I will keep your thoughts in mind as I work to pass the 2012 Farm Bill.
Again, thank you for contacting me about this important issue. Feel free to contact me again in the future about this or any other subject of interest to you, or for up-to-date information on what my office is working on please visit http://www.sanders.senate.gov. While there, I invite you to sign up for my e-newsletter, the Bernie Buzz, at http://sanders.senate.gov/buzz/. Please be aware that due to security screening procedures, postal mail to my office experiences delays that will lengthen the time it takes me to get back to you. The fastest way to contact my office is by calling 1-800-339-9834.
United States Senator