U.S. agricultural groups spell out their priorities in the next farm bill

By: - August 8, 2022 4:20 pm

A farmer plants corn into a cover crop of barley. Photo courtesy of U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service

Major U.S. agricultural production groups are pulling together their requests for the next farm bill — the massive legislation that Congress rewrites every five years to set farm and food policy — with crop insurance and disaster assistance on the top of their lists.

A panel of executives from farm groups detailed some of their concerns and requests for the next farm bill last week at the Minnesota FarmFest, an agribusiness fair organized by the American Farm Bureau.

The panel brought together major agriculture groups representing pork, cattle, corn, soybean and other growers. The groups all have a vested interest in supporting agriculture but some different priorities for where Congress should invest in farm policy.

Every five years, Congress sets programs and mandatory funding levels for crop subsidies, crop insurance, farmland conservation programs and energy programs in the farm bill. The farm bill also includes nationwide food and nutrition programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, and assistance programs for low-income parents and children.

The current farm bill expires in September 2023. But given the size and implications of the programs, it is already farm bill season for the groups with a stake in the bill.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, one of the large groups that represents a variety of farm producers, has a farm bill task force with representatives in each state.

They will coalesce by the end of the year around a set of official recommendations. Other large agriculture groups have a similar process.

But even as the groups work on their specific recommendations, they shared some early priorities – including funding, crop insurance and a forward-looking view for the next farm bill.

Money, money, money

The farm bill includes both mandatory and discretionary spending. Congress can change discretionary spending in the annual spending bills.

But most farm bill programs are mandatory spending, including crop subsidies, farm bill conservation programs and some forms of crop insurance. For those programs, the farm bill will set the funding structure for the next five years.

Given that structure, spending levels are always a huge debate in the farm bill.

“Some of the priorities that we have certainly would be to hold the funding together from the last farm bills,” Scott VanderWal, vice president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, told producers at FarmFest.

VanderWal said he knows some groups will ask for more money, but it will likely be a challenge to get any. The proposed Senate budget reconciliation bill in its section on climate change also includes major funding boosts for farm bill conservation programs.

But that is not stopping the American Soybean Association, which wants to push for more money for both nutrition programs like SNAP and the crop subsidies that fall under “Title One” of the farm bill.

“We really want to increase the funding for the farm bill. We think right now is the right time to ask for more funding, which will increase funding for the nutritional side and also for the Title One side,” said George Goblish, a representative of the executive board of the American Soybean Association.

Insurance against disaster 

The 2018 farm bill did not make major changes to food and agriculture programs.

But one change it did include was an expansion of the crop insurance program, which gives farmers the opportunity to purchase insurance against losses from weather or market conditions.

Crop insurance was once a sliver of the farm safety net but now exceeds the traditional farm subsidy programs in size and spending. Crop insurance is available for more than 120 crops and to farmers of all sizes and in all 50 states.

Farm groups say it is a top priority for their growers to preserve the crop insurance programs.

“Crop insurance is our best safety net, and we can go from there,” said Tom Haag, first vice president of the National Corn Growers Association.

VanderWal of the Farm Bureau agreed that one of the top requests he has heard from their members is to preserve crop insurance or expand it to even more crops.

For animal producers, representatives from the pork and cattle industry said they are concerned about animal diseases from overseas and want support for potential catastrophe if diseases make it into American animal populations.

For instance, the African swine virus has been identified in the Dominican Republic, the closest it has ever been.

“The pork industry does not have a lot of asks, but our main asks are around supporting labs, vaccine banks and insurance for catastrophic loss,” said Terry Wolters, immediate past president of the National Pork Producers Council.

Don Schiefelbein of the National Cattleman’s Beef Association said his producers do not want the government to interfere in their business but do need assistance if there is a disaster like foot-and-mouth disease, a viral infection.

“Where we need them (government) is in a disaster type situation where we need a big brother helping out. If we look worldwide, there is a lot of foreign disease risk,” said Schiefelbein.

Looking ahead

The farm bill comes at a challenging time for U.S. producers, who are struggling with rising costs for fertilizer, fuel, seeds and chemicals — due in part to the war in Ukraine, strains on the global supply system, inflation and severe weather.

But Rob Larew, president of the National Farmers Union, said farm bill authors need to be sure to craft legislation that can support farmers regardless of circumstances.

“One of the chief mistakes that I think we all want to make sure that we learn from is that we don’t write a farm bill for the current date, or today’s conditions,” said Larew. He noted the flaws of past programs that assumed prices for certain crops might remain high.

“We don’t know yet what those challenges are going to be tomorrow — let’s make sure we have a farm bill that’s prepared,” Larew said.

Correction: An earlier version of this report misstated Rob Larew’s title. He is the president of the National Farmers Union.

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Allison Winter
Allison Winter

Allison Winter is a Washington D.C. correspondent for States Newsroom, a network of state-based nonprofit news outlets that includes the Florida Phoenix.