Farm Bill: Federal policy focuses on food and agriculture
The farm bill is an omnibus, multiyear law governing an assortment of agriculture and food programs executed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Programs range from crop insurance to healthy food access for low-income families. As organizations are setting their priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill renewal, it’s important to understand what the farm bill covers.
Since the 1930s, Congress has enacted 18 farm bills. The bill is a package of legislation passed roughly every five years. On Dec. 20, 2018, former U.S. President Donald Trump signed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, otherwise known as the 2018 Farm Bill into law. The bill modifies USDA programs addressing the following: commodity support; conservation; trade and international food aid; nutrition assistance; farm credit; rural development; research and Extension activities; forestry; energy; horticulture; crop insurance; livestock; agriculture and food defense; and underserved producers, according to congress.gov.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition notes the farm bill’s chapters are called titles. The numbers and substance matter of the titles change over time, but the 2018 Farm Bill has 12 titles.
Title One: Commodities covers price and income support for farmers who raise crops such as corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, dairy and sugar. This title also includes agriculture disaster assistance.
Title Two: Conservation covers programs to help farmers implement natural resource conservation efforts on working lands, such as pasture, cropland and land retirement and easement programs.
Title Three: Trade includes food export subsidy programs and international food aid programs.
Title Four: Nutrition covers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, to assist low-income families with affording food.
Title Five: Credit covers federal loan programs designed to help farmers access the financial credit they need to grow and sustain farming operations.
Title Six: Rural Development covers programs helping to foster rural economic growth through business and community development.
Title Seven: Research, Extension and Related Matters covers farm and food research, education and Extension programs designed to support innovation, and Title Eight: Forestry covers forest-specific conservation programs.
Title Nine: Energy includes programs covering renewable energy systems and supports research related to energy, and Title 10: Horticulture covers farmers’ market and local food programs.
Finally, Title 11: Crop Insurance covers crop insurance, subsidies and the USDA’s Risk Management program, and Title 12: Miscellaneous brings together six advocacy and outreach areas including socially disadvantaged, veteran farmer and ranchers, agricultural labor safety and workforce development and livestock health.
Farm bill costs
The farm bill has two spending categories: mandatory and discretionary. Both types of programs are important, but mandatory programs typically dominate the farm bill debate. Discretionary funding is not funded in the farm bill. Any discretionary appropriations are funded through a separate congressional action.
In 2018, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the cost of mandatory programs in the farm bill was $428 billion for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019-23. Four titles accounted for 99 percent of the 2018 Farm Bill’s mandatory spending: nutrition; commodities; crop insurance and conservation programs. Programs in other farm bill titles accounted for one percent of mandatory spending.
In 2022, the nutrition projection was 84 percent of the farm bill baseline, compared to 76 percent when the 2018 Farm Bill was enacted; compared to 67 percent in the 2008 Farm Bill.
The COVID-19 pandemic and administrative adjustments resulted in sharp increases made to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit calculations; which accounts for roughly 80 percent of the farm bill’s budget.
Since FY 2020, Congress and the White House have provided over $30 billion of supplemental pandemic assistance to farms and over $60 billion for nutrition.
Path to a new farm bill
There are four phases to the farm bill process. Each agriculture committee from the House and the Senate drafts, amends and votes on its own bill. Each full chamber then debates, amends and votes on the bill.
The full House of Representatives debates the House of Agriculture Committee version and the full Senate debates on the Senate Agriculture Committee version, shares the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition webpage.
Leaders from the House and the Senate, including committee chairs, form a conference committee to combine the bills. A vote is taken on the combined final bill and then sent to the White House for the president’s signature.
Once the farm bill is signed into law, an appropriations process takes place to set aside funds in the federal budget to fund the programs in the farm bill.
The current farm bill expires in September 2023, but given the size and implications of the programs, it’s already farm bill season for groups with a stake in the bill. Currently, major U.S. agricultural production groups are pulling together their requests for the next farm bill.
For more information, visit usda.gov or congress.gov.
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.