Clock is ticking on 2023 Farm Bill
It’s a farm bill year. That means the work of agriculture committees in the U.S. House and Senate will be squarely focused on revamping this sweeping package of legislation that authorizes everything from crop insurance and food policy to conservation initiatives and rural development. The bill must be updated every five years, and failure to replace it by the expiration date of Sept. 30, 2023, would put a number of important programs in limbo.
Considering that agriculture is experiencing an unprecedented period of volatility, it seems appropriate that this year also marks the 90th anniversary of the very first farm bill, which was passed during the economic and environmental crises of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. Known as the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, the legislation’s original goals were to keep food prices fair for farmers and consumers, ensure an adequate food supply and protect the country’s vital natural resources.
Some nine decades later, those priorities remain core to the legislation. And while we haven’t sunk to Great Depression levels, farmers have weathered quite a few storms since the last farm bill was passed in 2018—tariff and trade wars, the COVID pandemic, the Ukraine conflict, supply chain disruptions and devastating natural disasters. The industry is also dealing with skyrocketing input costs, inflation and interest rates.
All of these challenges reinforce the critical need for farm policy that is reliable and predictable while providing a strong safety net.
However, the shifting political landscape could hinder timely passage of a new farm bill. A razor-thin Republican majority in the House and Democratic control in the Senate mean that drafting the 2023 version will likely require more bipartisan support than in the recent past.
Another concern is the fact that almost half of Congress—260 members—were not in office when the 2018 Farm Bill was passed, according to the American Farm Bureau. That disconnect means farmer and industry outreach is more important than ever.
Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson, a Republican from Pennsylvania, will lead efforts as chairman of the House Ag Committee, while Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Michigan, will oversee the Senate’s role as chair of its Ag Committee. Thompson has been vocal about wanting an on-time farm bill and has emphasized the need for producers to get involved in the process and “stay at the table.” In fact, he hosted the first farm bill listening session Jan. 13 at the Pennsylvania Farm Show before the House Ag Committee roster was even finalized.
On that roster is Missouri’s Mark Alford, a first-time congressman from the Kansas City suburb of Raymore. He’s among 12 new members on the House Ag Committee, which also includes representatives from Kansas, Arkansas and Iowa, all states in MFA territory. They’ve got their work cut out for them, and I don’t envy their task. Farmers are facing complex challenges that are difficult, if not impossible, to address through legislation.
When it comes to a farm bill “wish list” for farmers and agricultural industry groups, protecting crop insurance is a top priority. Crop insurance has become the backbone of risk management strategies for most farm operations today, providing assurance that farmers can survive until next year if Mother Nature does not cooperate. Improvements to disaster assistance provisions and increased funding for commodity marketing programs have also been highlighted as needs in the new legislation. And with the recent spotlight on climate-smart farming practices, conservation is expected to get extra attention in this farm bill.
Ultimately, however, lawmakers need to hear from the people that these policies will affect the most— farmers themselves. If, indeed, the bill is going to get developed and passed by September, time is of the essence. Contact your elected officials and participate in listening sessions, town halls and other events organized to gather farmer feedback. Share what works, what doesn’t and what you want to see in this all-important legislation.
What’s happening in D.C. may seem far from your farm, but Congress needs to hear from you. When farmers share their voices, it is a very powerful force indeed.
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