A substantial collection of incoming U.S. legislators, and other lawmakers who have been in office for only a couple of years and haven’t been through the drafting of a farm bill, will be instrumental in the development of farm policy that will shape the ag industry over the next five years

Those words come from an assortment of ag leaders and experts at the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) convention in San Juan, Puerto Rico, who reiterated the importance that the bill be finalized this year and suggested Farm Bureau members invite their lawmakers and staff to the farm and explain how the farm bill helps sustain their operations.

 “Do you realize that 81 members of Congress are brand new?” asked AFBF President Zippy Duvall in his opening address.

“In addition to the new members, 179 others weren’t in Congress during the 2018 Farm Bill debate.

“We must engage with them and help them understand the issues we face. That’s how we build relationships that will lead us to success in Congress.”

Funding ag programs
Passed and authorized by Congress every five years, farm bill legislation impacts farming livelihoods, providing funding and policy on everything from crop insurance and conservation to nutrition and commodities.

It’s expected this year’s bill could top $1.3 billion, with roughly 84% tied to nutrition programs with the remaining for crop insurance, commodity programs and conservation.

John Newton, chief economist of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, told AFBF convention-goers that farm bill discussions with stakeholders actually have been happening regularly in preparation for legislative action in 2023. "We’ve been meeting with farmers for the better part of a year and a half,” Newton said. “Every farm bill is unique. They all take a different path.”

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said it’s clear that the nutrition portion of the farm bill is critical to its success. Programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) to fight hunger and TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program) designed to purchase and distribute food to low-income Americans through emergency food providers, are critical to food security needs in the U.S. 

“It will be important and necessary for us to continue to link the nutrition aspect of the farm bill and the other aspects … all together in order to ensure the best chance of getting the farm bill in 2023,” Vilsack said.

AFBF priorities

Farm Bureau members have outlined the priorities they’d like to see in the farm bill. AFBF economist Shelby Myers said maintaining current programs and funding are key, as well as new initiatives such as increasing staffing needs in USDA county offices across the country to help administer farm programs.

Duvall said crop insurance must be protected and expanded and conservation programs should continue to remain voluntary and science-based.

“And we must keep farm policy unified with nutrition policy,” he said.

Duvall also noted there are discussions about advancing climate-smart farming practices as part of the farm bill renewal.

“It is important to ensure that any additional resources go to voluntary, market-based programs,” he said.