It didn’t appear in many front-page headlines, but Congress just passed a five-year, $867 billion piece of legislation in a bipartisan, landslide vote. In today’s political climate, this kind of thing doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it should be newsworthy. The fact that it was buried far below White House gossip and college sports scandals in major media outlets isn’t because Congress is avoiding transparency. It’s because we are an increasingly urban nation and the Farm Bill just isn’t on most people’s radar.
According to the US Census, rural areas contain 97 percent of the nation’s land area but just 19.3 percent of the population. In the mid-1800s, half of all Americans were involved in agriculture, but today that number has decreased to just two percent. And yet 100 percent of Americans rely on agriculture every day.
The 2018 Farm Bill will touch the lives of every American in a multitude of ways. It determines the cost and the quality of the food we eat, and delivers nutritional assistance to millions of low-income individuals and families in both urban and rural areas. It provides for rural economic development and plays a key role in both local and national economies. Farm Bill programs also fund the research, innovation and investment needed to conserve and restore our soils, water resources, forests, rangelands and wildlife habitat.
While the Farm Bill has long enjoyed strong bipartisan support in Congress and passed again with landslide votes in both the House and the Senate, it is not without controversy. There are deep questions about the way in which Farm Bill policy shapes land use, agricultural practices and economics, and what the proper role of government should be in these matters. These questions are important and need to be pursued, not through politicized, ideological debates, but rather in the earnest spirit of securing our collective future through pragmatic, forward-thinking policies and practices.
And, more importantly, just as the Farm Bill touches the lives of all Americans, so do the people, land and natural resources in the rural parts of the country. Working lands provide the food, fuel, fiber, energy and minerals that sustain the entire nation. They are also the cornerstones of our ecosystems, sustaining the majority of wildlife species. These lands cannot be managed effectively from the halls of D.C. or the desks of advocacy groups. Increasingly few people have the boots-on-the-ground experience of what it means to manage land and natural resources for the many values we all care about. We need to listen to, support and partner with those who do.
The Farm Bill may not be as entertaining as the latest D.C. scandal, but it merits Americans’ attention. In the meantime, we thank the Congressional leadership for achieving bipartisan agreement and getting the 2018 Farm Bill done this year.
Lesli Allison is the executive director of the Western Landowners Alliance (WLA), a landowner-led network dedicated to the health and prosperity of the American West by working to advance policies and practices that sustain working lands, connected landscapes and native species. WLA members steward approximately 14 million acres of deeded and leased public land in the American West. Through policy reform and on-the-ground stewardship, they are working to protect land and wildlife, restore watershed health, maintain wildlife corridors, promote economically vibrant rural communities and to keep working lands working.