Policy experts discuss chances of new farm bill

Incoming House Agriculture Committee Chair Rep. G.T. Thompson says passage of a new federal farm bill will be predicated on bipartisanship from both chambers of congress. The Pennsylvania Republican and just named new chair of the House Ag Committee in the 118th Congress notes the next congress has only three options:

Let the current bill expire
Extend it as is
Craft a new bill to better serve farmers, ranchers, producers and foresters.

His comments were made during taped remarks aired during a recent forum hosted by the Farm Foundation.

“While we have laid some groundwork, it is imperative that we do much more in the new year,” Thompson says.

Among the issues he cited as priorities were rising input costs, diesel fuel shortages, fractured supply chains and inflationary pressures. He touted his efforts to combat what he deems to be harmful regulatory actions spearheaded by the Biden administration. He also noted his recent vote in favor of the Farm Workforce Modernization act, saying that current immigration policies have harmed agriculture more than any other industry.

Thompson stressed the need for a more reliable farm safety net, noting that 80% of federal funding to producers since 2018 has come from outside the farm bill baseline. This came largely in the form of what he categorizes as ineffective disaster relief. While those programs provided much-needed assistance, farmers cannot plan for these programs, and lenders cannot depend on them.

“American agriculture, if given the right tools and regulatory confidence, can expand its vital role in alleviating global food instability and reducing costs for consumers,” he says. “That’s why we need to enhance the farm safety provisions in the farm bill to provide more long-term certainty and reduce the need for ad-hoc assistance.”

Political battles have just begun

Following Thompson’s remarks, Chuck Conner, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives President and CEO, discussed the potential scope of the next farm bill. He formerly served as Deputy Secretary of Agriculture during the George W. Bush administration. During that time, he helped craft a $300 billion Farm Bill proposal and assisted in the development of that administration’s immigration policy.

Connor identified four areas that will drive the farm bill debate: climate-related issues, the needs of urban versus rural areas, costs and nutrition. He notes that the four chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees are experienced members that should be agreeable to working with producers. They include Thompson and ranking Democrat Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., along with Senators Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and John Boozman, R-Ark.

“It just gives me hope and optimism that through their work and the bipartisan work of these four individuals and their experience that, despite very very difficult odds, we stand a reasonably good chance at getting a good farm billed delivered on time,” Conner says.

According to him, it remains to be seen whether this bill will go down as a “revolutionary” overhaul or something less ambitious. One of the biggest issues the next congress will need to overcome is how farm bill money is allocated.

Farm bill spending breakdown

In 2018, 76% of farm bill funding went toward the supplemental nutrition program. That number is projected to hit 84% in 2023. Only 6% of funding will be allocated to crop insurance, with 5% going toward commodities and 4% to conservation.

Conner expects there will be lots of pressure to increase funding for conservation and commodities programs. However, the challenge will be determining where that money will come from. Democrats are expected to push back against any cuts in nutrition programs. With the House and Senate controlled by different parties, this will likely prove to be one of the most contentious issues of the farm bill debate.

“This creates the conflict. We’re kind of locked into this we can’t touch anything, but everyone needs a little more,” Conner says. “If we had the answer to this question, we would have a pretty good idea of our chances of getting the bill done in a timely way.”

During a forum hosted by the Farm Foundation, the debate focused on what could be ahead next year.

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