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The federal Farm Bill is the single most important piece of legislation affecting the food you eat, the kinds of crops American farmers grow, the environment and the nation’s food security.

In response to the groundswell of demand for local and sustainably grown food, the proposed 2012 Farm Bill would make modest improvements to help family farmers deliver more of it to market. Yet the bill under consideration in Congress would continue Washington’s policy of disproportionately favoring large and highly profitable farm operations growing grain and cotton at the expense of small-scale growers producing healthy food for local markets. If passed, the bill would drastically underfund programs that promote healthy eating, protect natural resources and support small-scale, beginning and disadvantaged farmers who are growing primarily for local and/or organic markets.

This stacked deck is not unique to the U.S. Small-scale family farmers in developed and developing countries struggle with similar challenges in their quest to turn a profit and survive in a policy environment that is rigged against them. Among the difficulties they encounter are: a lack of access to affordable land, credit, capital and technical assistance; poor market prices; and inadequate information and infrastructure needed to aggregate, process and distribute their goods. They also face disadvantages in international trade and obstacles to market access in their own countries.

Fair trade organizations have stepped in to help farmers in many countries organize, improve their production and find direct, better-paying fair markets for their goods. For the most part, however, small-scale producers in the U.S. have been left to fend for themselves – at least until recently, when various non-profits, some with modest Farm Bill support, have stepped in to develop farm-to-table programs and help farmers establish and access new markets.

U.S. farm policy mostly benefits agribusiness, not small-scale producers
In recent years, some societies have begun to invest more in small-scale producers. Yet government policies the world over tend to favor industrial-scale, chemical-dependent production of raw commodity crops at the expense of small-scale farmers and organic growers who produce real, nourishing food. The U.S is no exception.

For too long, funding authorized under the U.S. Farm Bill has primarily benefited agribusiness and large, industrial-scale farm operations that aren’t growing food people actually eat. Instead, they’re growing genetically modified crops like corn, soybeans and cotton that get turned into ingredients for animal feed, fuel and highly processed food – at a high cost to Americans’ health and the environment. Producers in developing countries often find it hard to compete against these heavily subsidized American farmers.