by Kyle Kelly | Director, National Affairs
Public Affairs Division, Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation
The Farm Bill is an omnibus bill that is the guiding document that individuals engaged in agriculture and nutrition turn to every five years when the policy document is reauthorized. The bill is renewed every five years to give policy makers the opportunity to update legislation to address current agriculture and nutrition policy issues.
Agriculture has always been a pivotal issue discussed throughout each congressional session, but the first true Farm Bill wasn’t passed until 1933 (the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933). Congress updated the bill in 1938 and since passage of that document, the Agriculture Adjustment Act of 1938, the legislation has been updated or reauthorized every five years.
The original Farm Bill established programs to help control the supply/production of certain agriculture commodities to help stabilize prices. Farm Bills since the original version have been reauthorized to focus on programs that seek to continue to stabilize prices, but through different processes. When reviewing Farm Bills that followed the 1933 Farm Bill you see congressional actions that focuses on stabilizing prices through assisting with crop insurance and conservation programs. In more recent Farm Bills, you see the addition of commodity crop marketing through international trade and access to farm credit that helps farmers with production and marketing of their crops.
The 1970s was perhaps when one of the largest changes to the Farm Bill occurred by adding food assistance/nutrition funding into the legislation. This is what we now know as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The nutrition title of the Farm Bill will now accounts for roughly 75 percent of the total spend in the Farm Bill. Crop insurance, conservation, and commodity payments will account for nearly all the other spending through Farm Bill legislation. The 2023 Farm Bill could see a one trillion-dollar price tag over the life span of the legislation.
Over the decades the Farm Bill document has transformed to not only aid large crop farmers, but also include protection provisions for farmers of all sizes regardless of their commodity or livestock operation. The Farm Bill also continues to encompass major investment in rural development to help economic growth in rural America through broadband expansion and industrial development to create new jobs.
Congressional hearings have already begun taking place on “The Hill” to discuss priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill. The current administration and majority caucus leaders for the House Agricultural Committee have prioritized conservation and climate programs for the next Farm Bill. Leaders in the minority caucus have continued to push back on major funding increases for conservation programs or tying any climate provisions to current crop insurance products offered to farmers.
The first Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on the 2023 Farm Bill will be April 29. The hearing is titled, “Growing Jobs and Economic Opportunity: 2023 Farm Bill Perspectives” and was hosted in Michigan, home of the Senate Agriculture Chair, Debbie Stabenow. Chair Stabenow and Ranking Member Boozman have stressed the importance of bipartisanship as negotiations begin in their chamber.
As hearings continue to be held over the next 18 months it is important that agriculture stress the importance of programs that have helped sustain and grow the agriculture industry throughout Kentucky.
Programs like the crop insurance provisions of the Farm Bill have provided a safety net for farmers to ensure that they can operate even with the unknowns of the weather and international price fluctuations.
Title One, the Commodities Title, continues to provide price and income support for grain farmers that face unknown market volatility, especially in the wake of a war in Ukraine. Title One also provides agriculture disaster assistance to protect farmers that are impacted by adverse weather that destroys crops or livestock. This provision has been particularly helpful to the livestock industry that has suffered losses from draught, heavy winds, or floods through the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), Emergency Assistance for Livestock (ELAP), or the Emergency Disaster Relief Program (ELRP).
In Kentucky, broadband continues to be a major concern as many areas of the Commonwealth still lacks the minimum standard of coverage from adequate internet connection. The Rural Development title of the Farm Bill continues to be a priority for congressional leaders and could see significant investment in the 2023 Farm Bill for the ReConnect Program. ReConnect was established in 2018 and has invested billions of dollars across America to deploy broadband to underserved areas of the country.
While discussions for the 2023 Farm Bill are just beginning to take place, there is one outstanding factor that could completely change the priorities for the next Farm Bill, which is a November 2022 election of congressional leaders.
November 2022 will feature extremely competitive congressional and senatorial elections that will ultimately determine which party is in control of the majority in the House and Senate. If Republicans take control of either, or both, chambers, their priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill could look drastically different than current House and Senate leadership.
Regardless to which party is in control, leaders in the agriculture industry continue to advocate for passage of a Farm Bill in a timely manner and that is why meetings on “The Hill” are already taking place.