Farm Bill

The Path to a New Farm Bill (Regularly Updated)

It’s GO time! Our federal policy team has been busy at work keeping up to date with the farm bill action in Congress. In this blog, you’ll find all relevant updates, with the oldest news at the bottom and the most recent updates at the top. Stay tuned for more as things are moving. 

Update: Monday, June 17

On Tuesday, June 11 the Republican leadership of the Senate Agriculture Committee released their brief summary of their version of the farm bill. The summary heavily mirrors the House farm bill mark passed in committee on May 24 (see last update for more).

Some specific call outs between the Senate Republican and Democratic summaries include: 

  • An average 15 percent increase in reference prices is in the Republican summary while the Democratic proposal includes a proposed increase of at least 5 percent.
  • The Republican summary includes “cost neutral” updates to SNAP which would limit the government’s ability to make future changes. This is not seen in the Democratic summary. 
  • Republican Senators have included written limitations on the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation spending authority which was a big debate in the House markup as well. This has received push back from Democrats. 
  • All Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) conservation funding will be moved into the conservation baseline of the bill, but the Republican summary removes restrictions that limit the money to be used for climate-related practices. We are also concerned that the funding may be used for more than just the core four conservation programs that are already oversubscribed: Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), and Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP)   
  • Both have reauthorizations for organic funding and research programs but there is a lack of support for more dollars. 

Although Senate committee Republicans drafted full bill text it is unlikely they will release it as a minority party doesn’t usually introduce their own separate bill. With this summary released, we continue to see a major party split for moving a farm bill forward on key issues like commodity programs, nutrition, and climate. In comparison, the Senate Democratic summary is much more in line with our priorities and much longer, at 94 pages. Therefore, we were able to draw a lot more reflections on the Senate Democratic summary but still have yet to see any official text out of the Senate Agriculture Committee. 

As time goes on, we have increasingly been seeing the likelihood of having a farm bill prior to the election lessen. Many are saying that a lame duck farm bill may be most likely, or another extension. Ultimately, it is too soon to tell for sure and we still hope that all parties can come together to build a farm bill that centers all aspects of our agricultural systems and levels the playing field for organic, small, and diversified farmers and farmers of color. 

Update: Tuesday, May 28

At midnight on May 24, The Farm, Food, and National Security Act (FFNSA) of 2024 passed 33-21 in the House Agriculture Committee after 12 hours of conversation and debate. You can view the voting results here.  

Below, you will see our team’s brief thoughts on the legislation, broken down by title. The bill is almost 1,000 pages long, so this overview only captures some of the topline items. Our reflections are based on OEFFA’s member-driven farm bill priorities.  

Commodities (Title I):

The proposed 10-20% increase in reference prices is substantial and expensive. The highest increases would support predominantly southern crops like cotton, peanuts, and rice. We haven’t heard this need from farmers in our network especially when these programs are inaccessible to organic, diversified, and small/mid-size producers. These reforms ignore that reference prices will already increase this year, and could cost up to $50 billion despite primarily benefiting just 0.3% of farmers.   

Conservation (Title II):

One of our main focuses for this farm bill is keeping Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) funds fully in the Conservation Title. The House bill does that. However, we think it’s essential to maintain the climate guardrails and keep all those dollars in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), and Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) as originally intended. These programs continue to be oversubscribed, and the Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry (CSAF) practices remain a popular use for farm bill baseline conservation funding and IRA funding. There was an amendment proposed on this, but it failed on party lines (25-29)

The inclusion of funding for a new grant program supporting states and tribes administering soil health programs is very welcome. However, putting this program in CSP is stretching the resources of that program when only 30% of farmers applying to CSP can even secure contracts. We hope that funding state and tribal soil health programs can be through RCPP as it is proposed in the Senate summary. 

We also recognize that precision agriculture got quite a lot of space in this farm bill draft. While it is an important tool in the conservation toolbelt, it is not widely utilized by small and mid-sized producers, because the tech isn’t designed for them. Therefore, we’re skeptical of subsidizing these technologies with such high cost-share reimbursements (90%). This would use up a significant amount of already highly competitive CSP dollars and won’t serve most OEFFA farmers.  

Lastly, we support having the CSP minimum increased in statute but would have liked to see the increase match the USDA’s current minimum payment of $4,000, which appears to have led to more interest in the program. 

Nutrition (Title IV):

The Local Food Purchase Assistance (LFPA) Program had no mention in this bill. The Ohio CAN program, which is currently funded by these dollars, has been transformative for small/mid-sized farmers trying to access wholesale markets. Helping small, direct-marketing operations scale up for wholesale markets is essential to long-term local farm viability in Ohio. The Food Box Pilot program mentioned in this title will not invest in local food systems the way LFPA has. The competitive nature of the program and the limited number of awards will restrict the program towards larger operations that may not be local.    

We appreciate the increase in funding for GusNIP and the Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program. At the same time, we are concerned about those dollars coming out of other nutrition programs. In general, we are aware that many food security leaders are concerned that the changes in this title would limit future updates to the Thrifty Food Plan (which calculates SNAP benefits) and we want to make sure that we get a farm bill that supports food insecure communities as well as farmers. 

Rural Development (Title VI):

This title included the reauthorization of several impactful rural development programs like the Community Facilities Program, the Business & Industry Loan Guarantee Program, the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, and the Intermediary Relending Program. However, there are few reforms offered to increase accessibility for these programs to invest directly in rural communities, so we are worried about their capability going forward. 

Research Extension and Related Matters (Title VII):

1890 Land-Grant Institutions had some major wins in this title. The legislation would expand funding and research and extension programs for these universities, and we appreciate these dedicated investments. 

On another note, the text only reauthorizes the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program and the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI). These funding programs are really important to farmers and are the only regionally-based, farmer-driven research programs that involve farmers and ranchers directly. We were hoping to see additional funding for these programs. 

We are optimistic to see some expansion of existing programs to support meat processing workforce development and language to support the investment of regionally adapted cultivars and animal breeds, but there is no funding included. This does not help localized meat processing and our food systems to be more resilient. 

Horticulture, Marketing, and Regulatory Reform (Title X):

The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program is very beneficial to OEFFA and our partner organizations and we are glad to see the increase in funding. 

This title includes a lot of the organic provisions and unfortunately, the support for organics in this title is inadequate. Starting with organic cost share, the overall funding ($8 million) did not change and therefore remains insufficient to meet demand. Cost-share funding is increasingly important as organic certification costs continue to rise. The overall funding should be increased, and so should the maximum allowable payment per operation.  

The language authorizing the National Organic Program (NOP) to provide technical assistance, does not authorize it to enter into cooperative agreements with nonprofit organizations. This not only affects farmers in our network, but OEFFA directly. Nonprofits across the country have a long track record of successfully providing technical assistance to organic farmers who often feel poorly served by the USDA. The NOP’s budget was also left flat at $24 million over the life of this farm bill. Additional resources are essential to adequately enforce organic regulations and to tackle fraud in organic supply chains, which is incredibly important to Ohio’s organic farmers. 

On a positive note, we appreciate the increase in funding for the Organic Data Initiative and the language requiring USDA to collect, analyze, and publish segregated organic dairy data. This has been shown as a need in the organic dairy community by many farmers and organizations in our network.  

This title also includes the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production. While it did get some attention, there is no baseline funding allocated. We also did not see restrictive cooperative agreements written into the program, which would benefit more local urban producers rather than larger entities. 

Lastly, there is the inclusion of food hubs in the Local Agriculture Marketing Program (LAMP), the additional allowance for the purchase of special equipment, and the inclusion of turnkey grants. However, level funding will mean this program will continue to not meet demand. Additionally, the continued inclusion of the 25% matching requirement limits access for smaller organizations.  

Crop Insurance (Title XI):

The text does not include necessary reforms to improve crop insurance access for small, mid-sized, diversified, and direct-to-consumer farmers and ranchers. Currently, only 12-13% of all farmers are insured. We appreciate the premium discounts offered to beginning and veteran farmers, but more can be done to streamline paperwork and incentivize agents to sell insurance to small and diversified farms. 

On the topic of the Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) Program, the maximum coverage level was increased to 90% but more reforms are urgently needed to make this program work better. This bill’s annual review requirement is not a substitute for needed reforms, particularly given the USDA-contracted study already required by the 2018 Farm Bill.  

There is a Specialty Crop Advisory Committee written in the House bill, but this does not guarantee representation of small/mid-sized growers. We are skeptical that a small committee requiring only one grower for each massive region will sufficiently represent the diverse needs of specialty crop growers. 

Miscellaneous (Title XII):

There was recognition of providing resources for small to mid-sized meat and poultry processing plants which is important. However, with limited funding, this will be very inaccessible to folks in our network since state departments of agriculture and public land-grant universities are eligible entities. There is further capacity building needed that focuses on community meat processing, not those that have access to more funding. 

Overall Thoughts

Our farmers and communities deserve a farm bill that makes the safety net more accessible to all, that builds—and doesn’t take away from—resources that can help farmers build resilience to the impacts of the climate crisis, and that invests in local and regional food systems. By stripping the climate focus from IRA funding, limiting future updates to the Thrifty Food Plan, further bolstering an already bloated safety net, and failing to meaningfully invest in local supply chains, the bill misses the mark and OEFFA is unable to support it in its current form. We need a strong, bipartisan farm bill that advances racial justice, builds a climate-resilient future, invests in healthy communities, and levels the playing field for small and mid-sized farmers. 

We also encourage you to read through the responses by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the National Organic Coalition for more perspective on this legislation. 

Update: Monday, May 20

Here is a timeline of where we are currently at with the farm bill: 

Wednesday, May 1: The Senate Agriculture Committee released its summary of the farm bill (this time around called the Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act). Our partners at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) thoroughly outline it in a blog here

The House Agriculture Committee released a 5-page brief the same day that told us very little.  

Friday, May 10: The House Agriculture Committee then released its full summary which could allow us to draw some big-picture thoughts.  

Friday, May 17: The House Agriculture Committee released the full draft text of the farm bill, called the Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024 (FFNSA).

Thursday, May 23: The House Agriculture Committee is expected to vote on the House farm bill text. You can tune into the markup process at 11:00 a.m. EST by following this link.

What Do We Think of this Legislation?

We have some serious concerns about the House farm bill legislation as it includes major cuts to programs we care about. It also includes significant investments to fund commodities which will in turn prop up the biggest farms, allowing them to only get bigger.

One of our biggest concerns is that the proposed legislation does not keep the climate sideboards with Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) funding. Not only do these sideboards ensure that approved conservation practices have proven greenhouse gas emission reductions, but they also mean that those funds are supporting practices utilized by small and mid-size farmers in Ohio. In particular, the climate sideboards would correlate with practices used by organic farmers, specialty crop growers, and pasture-based livestock operations.

We also have some major concerns about the investments in commodity programs. The Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs generally don’t benefit farmers in our network. A 10% to 20% increase in reference prices for the latter comes at a considerable cost—up to $50 billion. Worse, this increased funding would come at the expense of other farm bill programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

What Happens Next?
a graph showing the process the farm bill takes as it moves towards the white house for the president's signature

We have a short six-day window between seeing the text and being able to push for changes within the Agriculture Committee. Our team will rely heavily on national partners like the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the National Organic Coalition in their analysis of the draft bill.

While markup is when amendments are typically introduced, the FFNSA is different in that it is an incredibly partisan markup. As such, House Democrats are unlikely to engage at this point. Amendments to the legislation will more likely happen out of the Agriculture Committee as the bill moves toward the full House floor for a vote.

Given the deeply partisan nature of the FFNSA, the Senate is unlikely to move on their bill until the House progresses. The Senate summary is much more in line with our priorities, and we hope that the final bill ends up leaning toward that.

Our team will continue to communicate and meet with Ohio Congressional offices on the Agriculture Committee (Representative Shontel Brown, Representative Max Miller, and Senator Sherrod Brown) and strategize with our partners while reviewing the 942-page bill.

More updates coming soon! Keep an eye on this page as we review the House farm bill in more depth!