2016 26.2 Policy Update

The Washington State legislature failed to pass a supplemental budget before the end of the regular session this year, and has convened for a special session which could continue through mid-April. Budget constraints and partisanship made this a difficult year for sustainable agriculture programs, but we hope this year’s Good Food Coalition efforts have positioned the legislature for progress in coming years.

Small Farm & Direct Marketing and Farm to School Programs
Our Good Food Coalition colleagues advocated for $250,000 of additional funding in the 2016 supplemental budget for the Small Farm & Direct Marketing and Farm to School Programs. This funding would have allowed the programs to support more smallscale and direct market farmers, and help more farms connect with school markets. However, a last-minute change in budget projections severely limited the scope of the supplemental budget. As of this writing, no budget has been finalized, but neither draft budget includes increased funding for the programs. However, the tremendous support witnessed this year may position the legislature to prioritize these programs in the future.

Farmland Preservation
The sole state source of funding for farmland preservation, the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, underwent a review process in 2015 resulting in legislative changes this session. The program will now spend 10% of its funding on farmland and forestland conservation, rather than the more complicated formula previously required. Overall, this should result in little change in the actual amount of farmland conserved.

Small Farm Internship Project
Two bills were introduced this legislative session to expand the Small Farm Internship Project beyond its original 16 counties. The project allows farms to offer workers compensation coverage to interns, whether paid or not. As of press time, neither bill had received a vote. The current pilot project expires in December 2017. If successful, farm advocates will recommend expanding it to all Washington counties.

Learn more about the program and apply at bit.ly/farminternproject.

President Obama has released his proposed 2017 budget, which has a lot of good news for sustainable agriculture: none of the usual cuts to conservation programs, increased beginning and socially disadvantaged farmer outreach and loans, increased sustainable agriculture research dollars, and crop insurance reform. Congress will now begin its budgeting process.

GE Labeling
The Senate version of a bill nicknamed the “DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act” which passed in the House last year and which would pre-empt state-level labeling laws for genetically engineered (GE ) foods has failed to gain the support needed to come to a full vote. Washington’s Senators both voted to prevent the bill from moving forward. Opponents of GE – labeling hope to pass a pre-emption bill before Vermont’s state-level labeling law takes effect July 1st and are expected to continue negotiations. Meanwhile, tired of waiting for a national law on GE-labeling, General Mills has announced that it will begin labeling GE -content in all of its products.

Farm to School
The Senate Agriculture Committee recently passed its version of the Child Nutrition Act, which included $10 million for farm-toschool grant programs and some policy fixes intended to help the program better serve farms and schools. The bill now has to pass the full Senate floor, as well as the House of Representatives.

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Ariana Taylor-Stanley is Policy Coordinator for Seattle Tilth as well as Coordinator for the NW Farm Bill Action Group.

Tags: Appropriations, DARK Act, Farm-to-School Program, Farmland Preservation, Small Farm Direct Marketing, Small Farm Internship Program