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2018 Farm Bill Breakdown: Urban Conservation

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Urban agriculture is a small but growing sector of the agriculture industry. Urban producers face both challenges familiar to any farmer, like accessing land and credit, as well as challenges unique to the urban setting – like soil contamination. The 2018 Farm Bill included several provisions designed to increase urban agricultural production and tackle challenges unique to urban locations.

Many of the urban agriculture policy changes included in the farm bill were proposed by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. Stabenow’s Urban Agriculture Act was introduced in the Senate in September 2016. At the time, Stabenow noted, “Urban agriculture is steadily growing in cities and towns across Michigan and across our country, creating new economic opportunities and safer, healthier environments. The Urban Agriculture Act will continue this momentum by helping urban farmers get started or expand their business, so they can sell more products and supply more healthy food for their neighbors.”

New Office of Urban Agriculture and Production

The 2018 Farm Bill brings greater focus to urban agriculture at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) by creating an Office of Urban Agriculture and Production, tasked with managing a new advisory committee. The farm bill authorizes the office to create a grant program to support urban agriculture programs; an Urban and Suburban County Committees pilot program; and a Community Compost and Reducing Food Waste pilot program. The farm bill authorizes $25 million per year for this new office but does not provide any mandatory funding. The success of the office and its ability to launch new programs will rely on Congressional appropriators to fund these programs.

Urban Agriculture Focus in Conservation Programs

Two changes to conservation programs were included in the farm bill to support urban producers. First, the farm bill authorizes soil testing and remediation as a practice within the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). This change will allow the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to offer cost-share funding to urban producers that need to test their soil for contaminants and address whichever contaminants are found. For urban producers, addressing soil contamination is an important  and expensive challenge.

The farm bill also expands the Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) program to include a focus area on developing new urban agriculture practices. The CIG program awards competitive grants designed to drive innovation in conservation and pursue new approaches. Grants are available annually at both the state and national level.

New Research Opportunities

Research opportunities in urban agriculture are also set to expand. The 2018 Farm Bill creates a new Competitive Research and Extension Grants for Urban Agriculture program. Potential topics for research include remediation strategies for contaminated sites, new crop varieties, siting new urban farms, reducing energy and water inputs, and food safety of urban production. This research program has $10 million in mandatory funding over the life of the farm bill, and an additional $10 million per year is authorized.

The new farm bill also requires a follow-on survey to the Census of Agriculture focused on urban agriculture. The farm bill authorizes $14 million for this survey. Follow-on surveys are often used to dive more deeply into a facet of agricultural production.

Stay tuned to NACD’s eResource for future 2018 Farm Bill break-downs by the government affairs team and reach out to Director of Government Affairs Coleman Garrison with questions or comments.

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