Urgency Mounts as Congress Delays New Farm Bill; Ag Community Calls for Action

By Jaclyn De Candio for Protect The Harvest

Why the Farm Bill Matters

Every five years America’s Farm Bill is up for renewal. It’s complex and covers many items important to farming, ranching, food production, and nutrition across the United States.  Here are the Farm Bill’s five spending categories:

  • Nutrition programs absorbed 76 percent of the Farm Bill’s $428 billion 2018-2023 budget. These programs come in the form of federal government entitlements, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – typically referred to as food stamps – Women Infants and Children (WIC) assistance, and other programs;
  • Crop insurance is about 9 percent of the Farm Bill budget;
  • Commodity support uses 7.3 percent of the budget;
  • Conservation programs represent 6.8 percent of the budget;
  • And “other” makes up the remaining one percent.

While an extension to the 2018-2023 budget was approved, the current Farm Bill was created prior to the COVID pandemic and the resulting economic, supply chain, and regulatory upheaval. The U.S. agricultural community urgently needs an updated Farm Bill to reflect today’s realities. Unfortunately, “The reality is that the closer we get to the 2024 elections, the less likely it will be for Congress to achieve this goal,” reads an American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) statement.

Historically, the farm bill has been a congressional bipartisan effort that brought all sides together to work toward common goals for the nation. After all, everyone needs to eat.

The Congressional Budget Office recently released updated projections for Farm Bill spending, forecasting a $59 billion decrease over 10 years compared to earlier estimates. In part, this is due to a decline in SNAP’s projected spending. However, it’s important to note that SNAP spending has significantly increased since the last Farm Bill was authorized in 2018. This increase is due to factors including the COVID pandemic and related supply chain disruptions, government-created inflation that has spiked food prices, and more people being granted access to the program.

Regrettably, Congress punted on a new Farm Bill in November of 2023, opting for a one-year extension of the 2018 version. The clock is now ticking while frustration in the agriculture community increases as farmers, ranchers, and food processors question if lawmakers will address critical agricultural issues before the end of the federal government’s fiscal year, September 30, 2024.

In a Successful Farming piece, U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) noted “tough decisions” are ahead for politicians involved, but he believes it is their duty to American farmers and ranchers to push this forward.

Farmers and Ranchers Call on Washington to Act

Hard work, time-tested principles, and solid values are in the DNA of American farmers and ranchers. They make up a critically needed community that produces food for Americans and much of the world. In an effort to move a new Farm Bill forward, AFBF created a call to action by its members to ensure their voices are heard regarding the urgency of Congress addressing the matter as soon as possible.

The importance of the Farm Bill includes “access to nutrition for low-income families, funds conservation programs, and invests in agricultural research. The Farm Bill is a major investment for our nation, as it should be, because the Farm Bill matters for all Americans,” according to AFBF.

What does Expiration of the Farm Bill Mean?

Some Farm Bill programs, such as food assistance and farm commodity support programs, need to be approved each time the bill is renewed, or they expire. Others, including crop insurance, are permanent and do not require reauthorization. The Farm Bill also affords an opportunity for changes to other programs and helps prevent outdated policies from continuing.

According to Senator Moran, certain provisions of the Farm Bill program need to be reworked to be more precise in addressing shifts in market demand and ensure a safety net for agriculture.

Due to numerous factors, much of the farming and ranching community enjoyed record profits in 2022, yet that profitability was short-lived. According to USDA, farm income dropped 16 percent in 2023 and is expected to significantly fall again in 2024. This financial squeeze is caused by a double whammy: a decrease in demand for American crops after the pandemic coupled with global geopolitical gamesmanship, and a sharp rise in the cost of production.

In his statements, Senator Moran references the current unsustainable economics facing American agriculture and how the nation is at an inflection point, with record volatility in the farm economy.

Additionally, paying for funding increases in some parts of the Farm Bill could require cuts in other programs.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, there’s a heated debate over agricultural policy. Democrat Rep. David Scott (D-GA) is urging fellow party members to resist Republican proposals, although Democrats have yet to offer any funding options.

Republican House members want to use $15 billion from Inflation Reduction Act climate initiatives and limit changes to SNAP in an effort to offset spending increases in the Farm Bill’s safety net entitlements. However, Democrats oppose changes to SNAP and similar programs, even though they cost taxpayers more than $300 billion over the lifespan of the 2018-2023 Farm Bill. With at least 130 Democrats needed for the Farm Bill to pass in the House, tensions are high as both parties posture for control of agricultural policy.

Taking Action

In the interest of A Free and Fed America, it’s important for citizens, especially those in the agriculture sector, to communicate with their federal elected representatives and tell them how important the Farm Bill is to you and your family’s livelihood. Sharing your story would help convey the impact the Farm Bill has on your business. Being involved in an organization like the Farm Bureau also helps support the ag community and ensures you remain informed.

Speaking on the Senate floor in March 2024, Senator Moran stated:

“American agriculture is at a pressure point; there’s record volatility in the farm economy, and farm income is falling by the most significant amount of all time. We ought to be providing certainty to those who provide our food, fuel and fiber. I’ve been through numerous Farm Bills, and they are always hard and usually late.”

If there was ever a time for those in agriculture to actively engage with your elected officials, this is it. Updating the Farm Bill is crucial to ensure its alignment with current needs and challenges in America’s food production and its supply chain to consumers. By fostering open dialogue and actively participating in the legislative process, we can work toward crafting a Farm Bill that reflects the evolving needs of agriculture and delivers meaningful benefits to farmers, ranchers, and consumers in a timely manner.

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