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Sustainable ag seeks more gains

Sustainable agriculture advocates say they're making progress. And they're determined that the 2018 farm bill expand on those gains.

"We have the opportunity to shape ag policy," Greg Fogel said. "The question for us is, are we going to maintain the status quo or are we going to try to build on the investments and our successes in the 2014 farm bill and the farm bills that preceded it?"

Fogel, policy director with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, spoke with the ag news media during an Oct. 24 conference call in which his group unveiled its 2018 farm bill priorities.

The Washington, D.C.-based National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, which has 120 member organizations, describes itself as "a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources and rural communities.

The farm bill, the centerpiece of U.S. food and agricultural policy, typically is revised every five to seven years. The legislation is scheduled to be updated in 2018, though it's uncertain whether the House, Senate and President Donald Trump will all agree on a new farm bill before the end next of year.

The Sustainable Ag Coalition is putting forward its priorities now on the assumption that a new bill will be approved in 2018, Fogel said.

Its goals were developed after two years of listening to farmers and working closely with its members, he said.

The five primary goals are:

• Increasing opportunities for beginning farmers and ranchers. The importance of doing so has broad support in agriculture and in Congress, said Juli Obudzinski, the Sustainable Ag Coalition's deputy policy director. Past farm bills have made some progress in this area, but the basic issue of bringing the next generation onto the farm remains unsolved, she said.

• Advancing land stewardship.

• Investing to help farmers and ranchers take greater advantage of rising interest in local and regional food products.

• Increasing public plant breeding research and development.

• Improving crop insurance "to better serve all of America's farmers and use taxpayer dollars more efficiently.

Other 2018 farm bill prioritiesinclude increasing funding for sustainable ag and organic research, education and extension; focusing renewable energy programs on solar, wind and perennial-based biofuels; advancing "racial equity in the food and farm system;" and focusing farm loan programs on "family-sized farms and historic target constituencies, including beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers."

To see the group's list of 2018 farm bill goals: " target="_blank">