Congress is enacting a multiyear farm bill, the 20th of its kind since 1933. Farm bills are normally passed every five years and shape not only what kind of food domestic farmers grow, but also how they raise said food and how it ultimately arrives on the consumer’s plate.
Farm bills 50 years ago were focused narrowly on farmers and ancillary suppliers/providers. The farm bill that will likely be enacted come 2025 is expected to cover a dizzying array of interest groups that range from helping towns purchase police cars to broadband access. Conservation and environmental groups are omnipresent, keeping a close eye on sustainable farming practices and land use, while rural counties especially have their own integrated market of providers (bankers, insurance agencies, hunters and anglers, and local governmental agencies).
As with most new bills, interest groups will argue that more money is needed. If more cash is pumped into this bill, projected spending would dwarf all previous bills – $1.5 trillion over 10 years. In terms of food aid, nearly 80% of the bill is proposed to go to nutrition via the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This is the largest federal nutrition assistance program providing benefits to eligible low-income families and individuals. From there, crop insurance, commodities, and conservation are slated to receive the rest.
Reformers are pushing for capping payments to farmers. They argue it is not the smaller farmers who reap the subsidy benefits, but rather the large farms concentrated on churning out commodity crops such as corn, soybeans, rice, and wheat.
Inexperience is Everywhere
While the price tag will certainly be an issue, the inexperience of roughly one-third of current members of Congress will challenge the process. For this one-third (elected after the 2018 farm bill), this will be their first go-around with a farm bill cycle and the learning curve is steep.
The American Farm Bureau Federation as well as leading commodity groups have the support of some of the more senior members of Congress. The new members will likely follow their lead, although a fierce back-and-forth between Democrats and Republicans is expected.
It would appear for those who were expecting a more diverse and potentially progressive bill, this won’t be the time. Pundits expect the entrenched interests to maintain control as in previous bills.