SALT LAKE — What will it take to get a farm bill across the finish line?
Creativity, a coalition mentality, and more time, according to a panel of House and Senate ag staff who recently spoke at AFBF’s Annual Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates the next farm bill will cost around $1.5 trillion, said Parish Braden, Republican staff director of the House Ag Committee. He noted that chairman of the House Ag Committee Rep. Glenn "GT" Thompson has tasked his staff with developing a funding framework that responsibly meets modern priorities.
“Through that work we projected $70 to $100 billion above the current baseline of the farm bill,” Parish said. “So, we need to find resources.”
An IRA solution?
The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022 set aside more than $18 billion in new funding specifically for “climate-smart” ag and forestry activities. But the IRA dictates that no projects or funding can extend beyond Sept. 30, 2031.
House and Senate Republicans — including Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), ranking member of the Senate Ag Committee — want to take that funding and add it into the baseline of the farm bill, which would ensure the funding continues in the future.
“What Sen. Boozman would like to do is take the climate guardrails off and let county officials at the local level address the local resource needs,” said John Newton, Boozman’s chief economist.
“When you think about the investment that can be made in repurposing those IRA dollars, building a baseline for generations to come, it's something that I hope we can find a partisan consensus on.”
In a September 2023 blog post, Republicans on the Senate Ag Committee spelled out the reasons why they believe the best use for IRA funding would not be in mandating that the money is spent on “climate-smart” practices, which they contend excludes a vast majority of conventional conservation practices.
On the other side of the political aisle, moving IRA money earmarked for conservation and environmental programs into the farm bill is a “red line” for Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Sen. Debbie Stabenow, said Mike Schmidt, Stabenow’s senior advisor on the committee.
Similarly, an idea from Republicans to place “modest guardrails” on increases to the Thrifty Food Plan under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is also a no-go, according to Schmidt.
“We see a red line in sort of taking those Inflation Reduction Act funds and not putting them all into baseline, all for conservation and climate,” Schmidt said.
“Traditionally — at least for getting a bill through the Senate — it's about adding votes. It's about finding and respecting those red lines on both sides. So similarly to how there’s two red lines for my boss, there's red lines on other sides, too.”
During the session, MFB District 6 Director Travis Fahley asked Schmidt about plans to update crop insurance.
Citing a recent letter to Senate colleagues sent by Stabenow, Schmidt pointed to Stabenow’s call for modernizing the farm safety net through crop insurance that offers choice and flexibility for farmers — including expanding options for specialty crop growers.
“There is currently a system where crop producers can decide to take higher subsidy levels, higher protection levels on an insurance product in exchange for foregoing for a year their Title I safety net, their base program,” Schmidt said.
“So, we think that’s an interesting idea that could be expanding and also it’s something where we think that it could be for folks without base. It’s great if you’re based right now, the current reference prices in the ARC program do a good job, but what happens when you’re not fully based, or got into farming and shifted over to row crops and don’t have base? So, it’s a way to also get an option and improvement for those without base or even specialty crops.”
While Congress authorized an extension of the 2018 Farm Bill through Sept. 30, 2024, there’s pressure on lawmakers to find a path forward before the end of the year.
“There's definitely a willingness by all the four corners to get this thing done this year, and we’re hopeful they can do that,” said John Kran, MFB national legislative counsel.
“They still have some work to do and some areas where they've got some disagreements, but the fact that they're willing to keep working on it is a good sign — and we need to keep pressure on and let Congress know that we're behind them to get this done on time.”