As the focus heightens on drafting the 2023 Farm Bill, educating 260 new members of Congress creates challenges and opportunities for producers to ensure the vital farm safety net programs not only remain intact, but receive additional funding and needed revisions.
During a briefing with Michigan Farm Bureau members attending the organization’s annual Washington Legislative Seminar, American Farm Bureau Federation’s Andrew Walmsley said that despite nutrition program budget increases, keeping it within the farm bill is essential.
“We want to keep a unified farm bill with nutrition and farm program spending together — that's how you get to 218 in the House and 60 votes in the Senate for passage,” said Walmsley, senior director of government affairs for AFBF.
“We've got to have that marriage work, in addition to having the farm-to-fork strategy and food security strategy. It's just good policy,” he added.
Noting that food security is national security, Walmsley said risk-management tools such as crop insurance and commodity title programs were top priorities identified by AFBF’s Farm Bill working group which released 60 farm bill policy recommendations.
That could prove challenging, according to Walmsley, with many in Congress questioning the costs of ad-hoc disaster programs over the last five years outside of baseline Farm Bill spending reaching $70 billion through Market Facilitation Payments and the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.
“That amount of spending shows that maybe the farm bill does not have all the resources it needs to truly account for the challenges facing American agriculture today,” Walmsley said. “That's really the message we're trying to take to Congress is that we need to make that an appropriate investment to ensure we have the economic viability of food production in this country.”
Calling Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow the most experienced of the House and Senate ag committee leadership, Walmsley said her pending retirement is strong motivation to complete the 2023 farm bill sooner than later.
“I think there's a strong desire by leadership to try to get a good bill done. It's just a question of whether we get bogged down by the partisanship. The only time we've ever seen a successful farm bill is when they're are bipartisan,” Walmsley said. “So working both sides of the aisle telling our story is going to be critically important.”
While Walmsley doesn’t expect a new a farm bill before Sept. 30, when the 2018 program expires, he’s optimistic that strong support from both sides of aisle in the respective House and Senate Ag Committees makes passage before year end a good bet.
“It's always a long and winding road to get a farm bill done, but I'm confident that we'll get a farm bill done this year, and we can have a good Christmas — if we keep the pressure up,” Walmsley said.