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Rural America needs a new farm bill

Badger View: Achieving a bipartisan bill that can pass both the House and the Senate by Sept. 30, when the one-year extension expires, remains a challenge.

Fran O'Leary, Wisconsin Agriculturist Senior Editor

June 6, 2024

3 Min Read
John Deere planter and tractor in field
WHAT’S AT STAKE: The farm bill supports not only farmers, but also the broader economy and the well-being of all Americans. FRAN O’LEARY

Since 2018, the farm economy has experienced a lot of changes.

Farmers throughout the country have faced challenges due to market volatility, trade tensions and unpredictable weather. COVID-19 further disrupted supply chains and market access, putting additional strain on farmers and ag businesses.

Challenges and changes

Given these challenges and changes, a new farm bill is more essential than ever. A new farm bill is crucial to support the resilience and sustainability of the farm economy. It provides essential safety nets for farmers, such as crop insurance and disaster assistance, which are vital in an era of increasing climate change.

The bill also tackles market stability and trade issues, offering programs that help farmers navigate global trade dynamics and access new markets. It also invests in rural development and infrastructure, ensuring farming communities have resources to thrive.

The farm bill promotes research and innovation in agriculture, driving technological advancements and sustainable farming practices. This is vital for maintaining productivity and addressing environmental challenges. It also includes nutrition assistance programs, crucial for ensuring food security for millions of Americans.

On May 24, the House Agriculture Committee advanced its version of the 2024 Farm Bill reauthorization. This comprehensive bill, totaling $1.5 trillion, passed the committee with a vote of 33-21.

While its passage was expected, the level of Democratic support was uncertain. Ultimately, four Democrats voted in favor. Democratic criticism focused on a provision requiring any future updates to USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan to be cost-neutral. This model, used to revise SNAP benefits, would save $27 billion in future benefit costs under the restriction, according to the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation. Some savings would be redirected to double trade promotion programs and bolster programs for specialty crops.

Democrats also opposed the removal of climate guardrails from the Inflation Reduction Act’s conservation funding, which would be included in the farm bill, and a provision suspending USDA’s Section 5 spending authority under the Commodity Credit Corporation.

House Ag Committee Chairman Glenn Thompson plans to use the CCC provision to offset increased commodity program payments and crop insurance subsidies. However, the Congressional Budget Office estimates the CCC restriction will save only $8 billion over 10 years — far less than the costs of the proposed changes to commodity programs and crop insurance titles.

Uncertain future

Although the bill’s future is uncertain, it addresses many priorities supported by the Wisconsin Farm Bureau and several other farm groups, including:

  • Increases to reference prices

  • Raising the Tier 1 Dairy Margin Coverage from 5 million pounds to 6 million

  • Reverting the dairy pricing formula to the “higher of” method

  • Voluntary base acreage updates

  • Mandatory cost surveys for dairy processors

  • Increasing Dairy Business Innovation Initiatives funding from $20 million to $36 million

Despite this positive step, securing a few Democratic votes in committee is just the beginning. Achieving a bipartisan bill that can pass both the House and the Senate by Sept. 30, when the one-year extension expires, remains a challenge.

The evolving farm economy necessitates a comprehensive farm bill to provide stability, promote sustainability and ensure long-term agricultural prosperity. By addressing these critical areas, the farm bill supports not only farmers, but also the broader economy and the well-being of all Americans.

Read more about:

Farm Bill

About the Author(s)

Fran O'Leary

Wisconsin Agriculturist Senior Editor, Farm Progress

Fran O’Leary lives in Brandon, Wis., and has been editor of Wisconsin Agriculturist since 2003. Even though O’Leary was born and raised on a farm in Illinois, she has spent most of her life in Wisconsin. She moved to the state when she was 18 years old and later graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

Before becoming editor of Wisconsin Agriculturist, O’Leary worked at Johnson Hill Press in Fort Atkinson as a writer and editor of farm business publications and at the Janesville Gazette in Janesville as farm editor and a feature writer. Later, she signed on as a public relations associate at Bader Rutter in Brookfield, and served as managing editor and farm editor at The Reporter, a daily newspaper in Fond du Lac.

She has been a member of American Agricultural Editors’ Association (now Agricultural Communicators Network) since 2003.

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