What input sessions reveal about the next Farm Bill

December 21, 2021
Will Stafford, CHS Washington representative, looks ahead to what could happen as the next Farm Bill is crafted and what may affect how the final legislation looks.

The current Farm Bill expires in 2023. Covering a wide range of programs from nutrition assistance for families to farm safety nets, the Farm Bill is a complex piece of legislature with a long, winding road to passage.

“No Farm Bill is easy to get done,” says Will Stafford, CHS Washington representative. “Each version faces its own unique set of challenges and it’s usually a pretty heavy lift for members of Congress, people in the agriculture community and other stakeholders to get a bill across the finish line.”

The process began this summer with members of Congress gathering stakeholder input from farm groups, companies, cooperatives and other stakeholders to identify priorities for the new Farm Bill, says Stafford. “The next step, which is where we are right now, is for members of the Senate and House agriculture committees to hold field hearings. Unlike most hearings, which take place in Washington, D.C., they will bring hearings out to farmers and ranchers to hear from them directly about what they want to see in the new Farm Bill.”

Next, the ranking members of the committees will schedule hearings on each section (or “title”) of the bill in Washington, digging deeper into the details. After that, the Senate and the House will each pass its own version of the bill. This is followed by a conference committee, where members adjust for differences between the two bills and create a single bill that is presented for final passage.

Key issues for debate

“Congresspeople are definitely hearing from farmers that protecting farm safety nets is a critical issue,” Stafford notes. “Keeping crop insurance and commodity programs such as ARC (Agriculture Risk Coverage) and PLC (Price Loss Coverage) available is very important. Meanwhile, keeping other programs voluntary has had a lot of discussion.”

Stafford believes some sort of sustainability policy and/or some of the carbon policies now being evaluated could make their way into the bill. “The conservation title of the bill is going to play a large role in some of the debates we may hear,” he says. “How some of those programs are working, which ones can be tweaked, what will stay voluntary and what might be pushed on farmers a little more will be a large discussion.”

The most contentious piece of the bill may be the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). “It typically constitutes close to 80% of the funding in the Farm Bill,” say Stafford. “Every Farm Bill is a bit of a budget process, and with only so much money that can be spent, SNAP may become a lightning rod.”

Midterm election outcomes could also factor heavily in how the next Farm Bill is shaped. “In 2018, the House split the ag and the nutrition portions of the bill, passed them separately and then had to bring them back together when they conferenced it with the Senate side,” says Stafford. “Depending on who wins the midterms, something like that may happen again and new people may be in charge of writing the bills. That would certainly change some of the priorities that we see addressed.”