Clearing hurdles for the next farm bill

June 6, 2023
A fall deadline looms for Congress to pass a new farm bill. Will Stafford, a CHS government affairs representative in Washington, D.C., provides a legislative update and discusses two hurdles standing in the way of passing the bill on time. 

The U.S. House and Senate agriculture committees are working to draft a new farm bill before the current bill expires this fall. Will Stafford. a CHS government affairs team member in Washington, D.C., says he’s cautiously optimistic lawmakers will reach an agreement, although they have hurdles to overcome.

Update on farm bill progress

With the current farm bill due to expire Sept. 30, 2023, Congress must either write and pass a new bill or extend the current one before the looming deadline.

“The White House has started to engage by inviting the chair and ranking members of both the House and Senate agriculture committees to talk about foreign policy,” says Stafford. “This summer, legislators will hold hearings in Washington, D.C., and in the countryside, taking priorities from other members of Congress and stakeholders and putting pen to paper to draft a new farm bill before the fall deadline.”

Failing to pass a new bill or extend the current bill will trigger policy changes, Stafford adds.

“The law would revert to permanent law, which includes supply controls and price regimes established in the 1930s and 40s. You can imagine that farm policy was very different back then,” he says. “It has provisions including minimum support prices for different crops that kick in at the start of new crop years for those commodities. For example, if there is a lapse in the farm bill, you may hear about a ‘dairy cliff.’ That means on Jan. 1, 2024, the minimum support price for milk would kick in and raise prices overnight. Generally, these types of provisions push Congress to act [to avoid allowing the current bull to lapse] to avoid disruptive market scenarios.”.

Farm bill priorities

What do farmers want to see in the next farm bill? Stafford says crop insurance and commodity program protection are top priorities. “We’re always talking to our owners and cooperative members to ensure their voices are heard in Washington, D.C. CHS will continue advocating to ensure farm safety net programs are working well and properly funded for our owners,” Stafford says.

The trade title is another significant piece of the bill for CHS and its member cooperatives and CHS is making sure ag perspectives are heard. “One of our company leaders was in Washington, D.C., last week, testifying in front of the House Agriculture Committee about the importance of market access programs. CHS is also looking for new opportunities to be involved in the conservation title to improve conservation programs for our owners. We want to ensure that conservation and sustainability programs remain voluntary instead of mandatory.”

Farm bill hurdles

Stafford says two major hurdles could derail farm bill discussions: SNAP (Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program) and general budget concerns. “The SNAP program has been challenging for the past couple of farm bills. It represents over 80% of the bill’s funding and has been a source of contention for Democrats and Republicans.”

He says general budget concerns regarding how additional conservation dollars should be spent could also hold up Farm Bill progress. “We saw a lot of money added to the conservation baseline at the end of last year in the Inflation Reduction Act. We’ve seen some Republicans want to put more of that money into commodity programs, while Democrats would generally like to keep the money squarely in the conservation title,” Stafford continues.

Despite these challenges, Stafford is optimistic about a positive outcome for the evolving farm bill. “I think we have the right leadership in both the House and the Senate agriculture committees to get a bill done on time, or at least soon after the current bill expires.”.   

U.S. Capitol building