Senate Farm Bill draft raises hopes for PFAS-impacted farmers

By Shannon Kelleher

As US lawmakers haggle over the renewal of the massive Farm Bill, which funds programs ranging from food access for low-income families to crop insurance for farmers, one new issue sparking debate is a proposed safety net for farmers whose land has become contaminated with dreaded “forever chemicals.”

A recent Farm Bill draft released by the US Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry, includes language from the proposed Relief for Farmers Hit with PFAS Act, which would direct the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to designate $500 million in grants to states, territories, and Tribes to monitor and clean up per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) on agricultural land and in farm products. The funds would partly offset financial losses a farmer can suffer due to PFAS contamination.

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture has said it sees PFAS as an “emerging risk” that poses a “major hazard” to US farmers and ranchers.

And last year, the US Department of Defense said it had notified almost 4,000 farms across dozens of states to warn that they were at risk for PFAS contamination. Many farmers in Maine have learned that their land is contaminated, as have farmers in Texas, New Mexico and elsewhere.

The US House of Representatives will hold a “committee markup” on May 23, a process that will result in a final draft, but neither an early overview of the House committee’s draft nor a more detailed version released Friday mention funding for PFAS-impacted farmers.

“We can find all kinds of money for increasing our defense budget and a whole host of other things,” said US Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine.  “It seems unfair to not find the money for farmers who are in need. I think in the long run we will find that money.”