Massachusetts Congressman James McGovern Calls for Farm Bill Overhaul

Both houses of Congress this week are considering legislation that establishes almost one-trillion dollars in spending for the country’s agriculture and food assistance programs. The U.S. Farm Bill is up for renewal. And one western Massachusetts Congressman says this time around lawmakers should be aiming to enact what he calls a “Fifty State Farm Policy.”

Worcester Congressman James McGovern is one of only four New Englanders on the House Agriculture Committee. Historically, the 46-member committee is dominated by lawmakers from the Midwest and some southern states. McGovern says that’s why the most recent Farm Bill, enacted in 2008, provided massive subsidies for industrial-sized commodity crops like corn, soybeans and peanuts.

“Past Farm Bills have not done enough to support the kind of agriculture we have here in Massachusetts. A lot of the funding is formula based and we get disqualified from even being considered for some of hte funding because some of our farms are near cities and therefore don’t fit the definition.”

McGovern says he hopes the Farm Bill will be revamped to better support local food systems in all fifty states. He says that would mean redirecting millions of dollars from large-scale direct subsidies to crop-insurance programs — for which family-sized fruit and vegetable farms throughout Western Massachusetts would be eligible.

But McGovern says renewing the SNAP — or federal food stamp program — is what he’s most dedicated to protecting.

“In the House there are dramatic cuts being talked about in the SNAP program and other nutrition programs — both domestic and international — that would make it very difficult for somebody like me to be able to support a Farm Bill.”

The Senate is debating its version of the bill. McGovern says the House could have a draft of its version of the bill next week.