FILE -- Gravenstein apples being harvested in Sebastopol, Calif., Aug. 23, 2011. The $965 billion farm bill signed by President Barack Obama in Feb. 2014 gives fruit and vegetable farmers greater access to crop insurance, protecting them from the vagaries of weather.

Jim Wilson, Nyt - Nyt

New farm bill reflects changes in U.S. appetites

  • Article by: Jennifer Steinhauer
  • New York Times
  • March 8, 2014 - 6:39 PM

– The farm bill signed by President Obama last month was at first glance the usual boon for soybean growers and catfish farmers. But closer examination reveals that the nation’s agriculture policy is increasingly more whole grain than white bread.

Within the bill is a significant shift in the types of farmers who are to benefit from taxpayer dollars, reflecting a decade of changing eating habits and cultural dispositions among U.S. consumers. Organic farmers, fruit growers and hemp producers all did well in the new bill.

An emphasis on locally grown, healthful foods appeals to a broad base of their constituents, members of both major parties said. “There is nothing hotter than farm-to-table,” said Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich.

While traditional commodities subsidies were cut by more than 30 percent to $23 billion over 10 years, funding for fruits and vegetables and organic programs increased by more than 50 percent over the same period, to about $3 billion.

Fruit and vegetable farmers, who have been largely shut out of the crop insurance programs that grain and other farmers have enjoyed for decades, now have far greater access.

Money to help growers make the transition from conventional to organic farming rose to $57.5 million from $22 million. Money for oversight of organic foods doubled to $75 million over five years.

The new attention and government money for healthy foods stem from the growing market power of those segments of the food business, as well as profound shifts in nutrition policy and eating habits.

While still in the shadows of traditional farming, organics are the fastest-growing sector of the food business. Support for that movement has traditionally come from Democrats, but the organic farming provisions in the bill had broad support from both parties.

“We kind of overperformed with younger new members of Congress on both sides of the aisle,” said Laura Batcha of the Organic Trade Association.

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