Our nation’s food supply is considered the world’s safest – and the most affordable – due in large part to the efficiency and productivity of our farmers. The farm bill, a safety net for farmers and consumers, plays a key role in making sure families have relatively easy access to food. It also assists farmers in producing safe, affordable and nutritious food.
The farm bill, generally renewed every five years, governs an array of agricultural and food programs. The last farm bill had 12 titles, including commodity programs, conservation, trade, nutrition, credit, rural development, forestry, energy, horticulture, crop insurance and miscellaneous – making it a bill for everyone.
Since the 1930s, farm bills have expanded to include nutrition, conservation, horticulture bioenergy, specialized segments of agriculture (like direct marketing and organics) and more, adapting and growing to meet the evolving needs of stakeholders and the changing face of agriculture. As farm bills grow, coalitions representing stakeholders from all the titles become critically important to getting support for passage of the overall package.
Funding is a huge challenge. Twelve titles and hundreds of programs all competing for one pot of money. The 2014 Farm Bill was expected to cost $956 billion over 10 years. This seems like an enormous amount of money, but compared with total government spending, it is relatively small. Despite the numbers, the last farm bill actually reduced the federal deficit over 10 years by $23 billion – making it the only reauthorization bill that session that voluntarily reduced savings. This was done by reforming and reducing the farm safety net, conservation initiatives and nutrition assistance. Discussions are now underway in Washington D.C. for the 2018 Farm Bill and they are expected to be challenging, as negotiators will be working with a smaller pot of money.
Meanwhile, making a living has become a real challenge for many farm families, as milk prices and other commodity prices have fallen drastically over the past few years. In fact, net farm income has declined by 46 percent or $56 billion since 2013.
Despite this downward trend, one of the biggest targets in upcoming discussions is crop insurance, which accounts for about 9 percent of the farm bill pie. Risk management programs like crop insurance and farm program payments (which help farmers when prices or revenue falls below a set level) can be critically important in a bad harvest year and serve as the foundation of the farm safety net.
After not electing to buy crop insurance coverage in recent years, my boys and I decided to purchase coverage this year. It’s a good thing we did, because after what felt like unending rains this spring, I finally gave up trying to plant corn around Father’s Day. Between the challenges of dairy prices and what looks like two bad crop years in a row, I think we just might have gone out of business had I not purchased crop insurance. My example is just one of many that illustrates the critically important need for a viable safety net.
The farm bill also helps fund critical research projects that positively impact our food supply and includes programs that directly benefit the environment. Many farmers are able to implement on-the-ground conservation measures with the help of cost-share benefits available through the spending plan.
The largest and most significant piece of the farm bill pie goes directly to nutrition programs (like SNAP, the supplemental nutrition assistance program), as 79 percent of the package supports food banks, food stamps and woman, infant and children (WIC) programs. This major commitment helps ensure that millions of children, who might otherwise go hungry, have food on their tables and in their refrigerators.
Following nearly a year of work by Farm Bureau representatives across the country, the American Farm Bureau Board of Directors sent our 2018 Farm Bill recommendations to Congress. We are hearing that the House and Senate Ag Committees may have bills drafted by the fall. That means we have a short window to make our voices heard and make certain the 2018 Farm Bill is strong by providing a reliable safety net for those who need it. Although some of the 2014 programs are doing their job, there are others – like the Dairy Margin Protection Program – that need work to ensure they function as a valuable tool for farmers.
Failure to pass a new farm bill is not an option. Without a farm bill, millions of farmers and consumers would lose a vital safety net, and the consequences would ripple throughout our economy. I hope you will stand with Farm Bureau and the agriculture industry by working to achieve on-time passage of a robust 2018 Farm Bill. It’s a bill for everyone and a safety net for all.