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Big stakes as the farm bill takes shape

It’s rewarding to be part of the greatest industry in this country—agriculture. As part of this industry, we all accept the investment of time and the monetary resources required to provide food, fuel and fiber locally and worldwide.

Unfortunately, your livelihood comes with significant risk.

Many of you invest and have more at risk in an annual crop or herd than most Americans do over their lifetime. Food security, and ultimately national security, depends on your ability to raise safe, healthy and affordable food.

ErnieM.S. Swaminathan, a renowned agronomist and famous leader of the Green Revolution in India, gave credit where credit was due. He said, “If agriculture goes wrong, nothing else will have a chance to go right.”

That reality is precisely why this country provides a safety net to protect our food supply and the producers who raise it. Without this safety net, who would supply and finance the inputs in a market with such extreme volatility?

In mid-June, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (NCFC) held its annual legislative conference in Washington, D.C. Along with two staff members, I attended that event and had the opportunity to discuss key issues impacting agriculture. The highest on the list for every attendee was progress on the 2023 Farm Bill. The current 2018 Farm Bill expires on Sept. 30, 2023.

Historically, the farm bill traces its roots to The Great Depression and Dust Bowl era more than 90 years ago. The three original goals are still the foundation of today’s farm bill: 1) keep food prices fair for farmers and consumers; 2) ensure an adequate food supply for our country; 3) protect and sustain the country’s vital resources.

Over time, the bill has expanded to 12 different titles to encompass changing practices and needs.

NCFC, commodity groups and other agricultural companies and organizations have been busy spearheading efforts to drive key provisions in the farm bill. Every farm bill gets its share of debate, but this one will face as many challenges as any in the past.

From a producer standpoint, inflation, risk management tools, climate and weather concerns, reference prices, trade and renewable fuels top the list of concerns. With projections that commodity values will decline at a pace faster than cost reductions, a strong farm safety net is the top priority.

We all know that agriculture’s voice is only one of many when it comes to the farm bill discussion. The population balance continues to shift away from people with agricultural backgrounds, and that growing gap in agricultural knowledge leaves outside groups with large war chests looking to drive government policy.

Environmentalists, animal activists and climate-change advocates look to end or tie government programs to initiatives their organizations favor. These are policy directions we know are better addressed with incentives than by mandates.

As an industry, we also are faced with educating a larger number of congressional members. Some 50% of the House and 24% of the Senate were not in place to vote on the 2018 Farm Bill.

The 2023 Farm Bill is projected to be the first with a price tag of over $1 billion, with the Congressional Budget Office estimating the cost at $1.51 billion over the 10-year scoring baseline. Of that total, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) accounts for 81% of spending.

That leaves agriculture and rural development programs with the remainder.

Efforts to reduce the federal debt will put pressure on the overall farm bill development and structure. Many believe the SNAP portion of the bill is likely set, which dictates that any new or enhanced funding will need to come at the expense of other programs.

You can rest assured that your industry, including MFA, will continue to work on your behalf throughout the farm bill discussions. When you put it in perspective, the projected cost is less than one-half of 1% of the federal budget—a small price tag in the effort to provide food security.

The final bill will be an important part of planning for future production. Its timely completion will allow us all to better manage risk in a volatile environment.

That said, many insiders don’t expect the bill to be completed by the Sept. 30 deadline but do have hope that it will be completed by the end of calendar 2023.

Getting it right should be the focus. When it comes to decisions, there is no wrong time to make the
right one.

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