It’s early, but discussions about the next farm bill will likely be starting up in the next few months as agricultural organizations begin talking to their members and lawmakers begin planning for hearings.
“It is early, so it’s hard to get my Magic 8-Ball shaken up to be too clear,” says Andrew Walmsley, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.
But Walmsley says the AFBF and other farm organizations will be starting the process this fall of talking to members to get their opinions about the farm bill. And leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees in Congress will likely plan hearings next spring.
The last farm bill was passed in 2018, so the goal will be to pass a new one in 2023, though it has not been unusual for the process to spill over into the following year. The basic idea is that farmers talk about their priorities now so their organizations can then talk to Congress about organizational priorities.
In 2018 the farm bill was in many ways a continuation of the 2014 bill, with everyone agreeing they liked federally subsidized crop insurance as the centerpiece of federal support for farmers. There is still strong support for crop insurance. But the COVID-19 pandemic caused changes in farm policy and farm aid over the past 18 months, and it may have caused some lawmakers and farmers to look at different programs or proposals.
“It (COVID) was a shared experience,” says Mike Stranz, vice president of advocacy at the National Farmers Union.
And that shared experience put a focus on the agricultural supply chains. It also led to large federal aid programs for farmers and non-farmers. It is likely lawmakers will be looking at the supply chain issues and at the COVID aid to see what worked and what didn’t as they assess the next farm bill, Stranz says.
Food security is also an issue that was brought to the surface by the pandemic. Stranz and Walmsley both say it will likely be part of the discussion.
Another item that could influence the farm bill discussion is climate. The Biden administration has made it clear it considers climate issues to be a priority. There is a bill in Congress this year aimed at agriculture and climate (the Growing Climate Solutions Act). Stranz says the most likely scenario is that climate issues get plugged into existing conservation programs so that climate is a factor to be considered (as well as erosion, etc.).
“We want to keep focused on working lands,” Walmsley says.
Finally, no discussion of legislation would be complete without mentioning that there is always another election around the corner. The 2022 Congressional election could potentially lead to changes in a closely divided Congress and that could impact some of the farm bill debate.
Luckily, Stranz says, the rural- urban or Democrat-Republican divides haven’t really led to a divide among farm state lawmakers yet. Both Republicans and Democrats want to support farmers and want to pass a farm bill.
Of course, there is still some unfinished business. Walmsley says it is possible Congress will first hold oversight hearings about the implementation of the 2018 farm bill. And it is possible that budget reconciliation decisions could impact farm bill funding levels.
“Watching Congress is a dangerous spectator sport,” he says.