Ag Policy Blog

Congressional Update: Lawmakers Introduce Small Farms Act, Advance Whole Milk Bill

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
A U.S. senator and a group of House lawmakers on Tuesday introduced a bill to create a new office at USDA that will focus on small farms to ensure they have access to federal programs. (DTN file photo)

Booker, House Members Introduce Small Farms Office Act

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.; and Reps. Marilyn Strickland, D-Wash.; Alma Adams, D-N.C.; and Jim McGovern, D-Mass., on Tuesday introduced the Office of Small Farms Establishment Act to create a new office within the Agriculture Department focused on ensuring that small-acreage operations have equitable access to the critical federal programs that provide farm loans, conservation funding, crop insurance, and much more.

"Small farms are the heart and soul of our agricultural landscape, contributing to our economy, food security, and the resilience of our local food supply chains," Booker said in a news release. "It's time we do more to ensure that all farmers, regardless of the size of their farms, have equitable access to the support they need to flourish."

"Nearly 90% of all farms in Washington state and the vast majority of farms in the U.S. are operated by small, family farmers, but too often they lack the operational support to take full advantage of the grants and assistance programs offered by USDA," said Strickland. "The Office of Small Farms Establishment Act would ensure the resilience of the country's food systems, invest in minority-owned farms that are often left behind, and recognize the challenges facing small farms today."

"Almost 2 million farms and ranches in the United States are operated by small family farmers," said Adams. "The Office of Small Farms Establishment Act would empower these famers with the tools they need to make the most of USDA's grant and assistance programs."

"Massachusetts is home to over 7,000 farms -- and small farms are our agricultural backbone," said McGovern. "Every farm ought to have access to the same resources and support no matter their scale. When every farm is given what they need to succeed, we grow closer to building more resilient local food systems for all Americans."

Booker explained, "Key functions of the Office of Small Farms would include assessing the specific needs of small operations, evaluating the effectiveness of the USDA at serving small farms, and recommending improvements to USDA program policies, design, and delivery. The office would also facilitate direct technical assistance and grants of up to $25,000 for equipment, uninsured losses, business planning assistance, conservation practice adoption, and downpayments for land. In addition, an anonymous hotline would be established to enable small-scale operations to report challenges they face in accessing USDA assistance."

The legislation proposes an annual budget of $25 million to carry out these functions, with $15 million allocated for the operation of the office and $10 million dedicated to technical assistance and grants for small-scale operations.

"The pandemic showed how vital small farms are to the resilience of our food system. Small farms play an outsized role in the country's food security, but they do not receive the support that they need from the federal government," said Tim Fink, policy director for the American Farmland Trust. "This office will help to level the playing field."

Booker also released a full list of organizations supporting the bill.

-Office of Small Farms Establishment Act 2023 (bill)…

- Endorsement list…

House Ed & Labor GOP Advances School Whole Milk Bill

The House Education and Labor Committee on Tuesday approved the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, which would allow schools participating in the National School Lunch Program to serve all varieties of flavored and unflavored milk, including whole milk.

The committee also passed three other bills. House Education and the Workforce Committee Chair Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said the bills would "improve outcomes and choices for the American people" and urged the support of the full House.

Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the ranking member on the committee, said the House had called up a "set of bills that neglect our responsibilities to students, workers, and families." The whole milk bill, he said, "ignores the science and guidance from nutritionists and pediatricians. The current dietary guidelines, which are determined by child nutrition experts and public input, make clear that low-fat and fat-free milk are the healthiest options for children."

International Dairy Foods Association President and CEO Michael Dykes praised the committee for advancing the whole milk bill. Dykes highlighted House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn "GT" Thompson, R-Pa., who also sits on Ed & Labor, and Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Wash., for introducing the measure.

Dykes said, "The bill provides children, parents, and schools a wide variety of milk options -- whole, reduced-fat, low-fat, non-fat and lactose-free -- to meet their nutritional needs. Whole milk provides students with milk's 13 essential nutrients for growth, development, healthy immune function, and overall wellness. A wide majority of parents and medical and nutrition professionals know that offering whole milk increases school meal participation, reduces food waste, and adds to the nutritional value of school meals for children and adolescents. IDFA looks forward to working with the full House on passage of the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act in the coming weeks."

Meghan Maroney, the Center for Science in the Public Interest campaign manager for federal child nutrition programs, called the bill "a misguided and harmful bill that prioritizes corporate interests at the expense of child health." Allowing whole milk in school meals would result in "increasing the overall allowance of saturated fat in school meals, inconsistent with the recommendations of the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans," she added.

- Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act of 2023…

- YouTube -- Full Committee Markup of H. Res. 461, H.R. 1147, H.R. 2813, and H.R. 2868…

House Ag Schedules Rural Development, Research, Extension Hearings

House Agriculture subcommittees will hold hearings on rural development and research and extension programs next week.

On June, 13, the House Agriculture Commodity Markets, Digital Assets, and Rural Development Subcommittee will hold a hearing titled Stakeholder Perspectives on USDA's Rural Development Programs.

On June 14, the House Agriculture Conservation, Research, and Biotechnology Subcommittee will hold a hearing titled A Review of Title VII: University Perspectives on Research and Extension Programs.

Each hearing will begin in Room 1300 of the Longworth House Office Building and will be livestreamed.

Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at

Follow him on Twitter @hagstromreport


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