Emma Vik | Strategy Analyst
Every five years, Congress tackles the enormous Farm Bill, a legislative powerhouse spanning farming and food assistance policies. This game-changing bill carries an annual price tag of around $100 billion, and right now, Congress is hustling to pass the next iteration before the 2018 bill expires on September 30, 2023.
How will it affect you? The passage of this bill impacts every single American, transforming policies across multiple sectors that touch various lives. Brace yourself for changes in the business world that might just influence your own operations and clients.
Here’s what you need to know.
The history of the Farm Bill
The Farm Bill is a massive piece of legislation covering diverse areas like farm programs, conservation, rural development, forestry, trade promotion, nutrition and agricultural research.
Typically renewed every five years, there have been 18 versions of the Farm Bill since the 1930s. Initially focused on supporting staple commodities during the Great Depression, these bills have evolved drastically over time to fit into the current time and needs of the United States. Notable additions include a larger focus on conservation, rural development, and research, with the addition of nutrition starting in the early 1970s.
Failure to reauthorize the bill means vital programs like nutrition assistance and farm support expire. Some programs have permanent authority but are still included for policy adjustments and budget goals.
The Farm Bill debate now involves a wide range of stakeholders, including farm groups, associations, state organizations, health officials, and advocacy groups for conservation, rural development, and more.
Challenges with the 2023 Farm Bill
These bills always stir controversy with their hefty price tags. This year, the timing adds complexity, as it comes alongside recent bills for COVID-19 relief, combating inflation and infrastructure investment.
Agriculture Committee leaders and farm groups argue for increased funding to strengthen the food and farming sector, potentially exceeding current estimates. On the other hand, reformers seek payment caps for farmers, calling it an “expensive agricultural safety net” and advocating for stricter eligibility criteria.
You might be surprised to learn that most Farm Bill funds go towards nutrition assistance, mainly through SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Congress began to include nutrition assistance in the bill in the 1970s to gain greater urban population support.
It’s important to note that the amount of money from the Farm Bill that goes to nutrition has continuously increased over the last 30 years and there’s no sign of its growth slowing any time soon.1 For example, in 1990, about $15 billion went to nutrition programs but in 2018, about $665 billion went to the programs. Currently, over 42 million Americans, including nearly one in four children, depend on SNAP. In the upcoming Farm Bill, SNAP and a few smaller programs are projected to consume a staggering 80% of the funds, up from 76% in 2018.
Congress faces mounting pressure to mandate the USDA in setting better criteria for measuring, reporting and verifying efforts to enhance soil carbon levels. “Carbon farming” is gaining momentum, compensating farmers for practices like no-till agriculture and cover crops, potentially increasing soil carbon storage according to studies.2
Yet, concerns arise about the lack of comprehensive research and standards. There’s apprehension that investments in climate-smart agriculture could inadvertently promote greenwashing instead of genuinely transforming the production system.3 Mixed research findings cast doubt on the readiness to establish carbon markets based on these practices.4
New legislative class:
Lastly, understanding the Farm Bill requires expertise in areas like crop insurance, nutrition, and forestry. Surprisingly, nearly one-third of current members of Congress were elected after the 2018 Farm Bill, making this their first experience with the Farm Bill cycle.
Predictions about the dividing up of the bill across sectors change weekly. Some believe the bill won’t even be passed in time to pick up where the 2018 bill left off at the end of September. At this point, no one truly knows what’s in store for the 2023 Farm Bill.
With so many players involved in the Farm Bill, it’s important for businesses to stay informed about the specific provisions and outcomes of the 2023 Farm Bill that directly relate to their industries and adapt their strategies accordingly.
Watch this blog for more on the Farm Bill as it inches closer to being passed.
1 “The Farm Bill ‘Math’ is complicated and everchanging”, AgriPulse
2 “What is Carbon Farming?”, Carbon Cycle Institute
3 “Can carbon markets accelerate progress towards net zero?”, White & Case
4 “The Opportunities and Risks of Carbon Credits on the Pathway to Net Zero”, Sidley