House Republicans release farm bill draft

Bill set for markup next week, and includes key measures on conservation, nutrition, funding, milk and more.

May 17, 2024

5 Min Read
USDA in Washington, DC
Perry Spring/Getting Images

On Friday, House Agriculture Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson release the full text of his farm bill proposal. The Ag committee will consider the legislation, formally known as the Food, Farm, and National Security Act of 2024, during a May 23 markup session. If it cleats the committee, where Republicans hold the majority, the bill will then potentially go before the full house.

Thompson says the bill is the product of extensive feedback from stakeholders and all Members of the House. He contends it responds to the needs of farmers with bipartisan policies.

“The markup is one step in a greater House process, that should not be compromised by misleading arguments, false narratives, or edicts from the Senate,” he said, presumably calling out Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow. “I look forward to engaging with colleagues on both sides of the aisle as we move to markup."

As currently written, the bill would increase reference prices for all commodities between 10% and 20%. The Agriculture Risk coverage guarantee would be set at 90% of benchmark revenue, with a Maximum ARC Payment set at 12.5% of benchmark revenue. The Supplemental Coverage Option would cover 90% of expected county yield and would be subsidized at 80%.

According to Republican aids who helped draft the bill, the bill is the product of months of negotiations with Democrat lawmakers. According to them, Thompson went out of his way to ensure priorities from both parties were taken into consideration.

“He continues to emphasize that he wants folks to come to the table, so much so that we are hearing from Democrat offices,” one aid said. “There are members who are very interested in the farm bill and are not subscribing to the political nature of the conversation and the influence of a retiring Senator who does want one.” 

That was apparently another shot at Stabenow, who is retiring at the end of her term.

Notably, the Republican plan takes conservation funding from the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act and puts it into Farm Bill Title 2, the portion bill covering conservation funding.

The IRA is considered one of President Biden’s signature pieces of legislation and funds multiple programs aimed at mitigating climate change. Republicans say adding this will permanently increase farm bill conservation funding by 25%. However, they also plan to remove so called “climate sideboards.”

Simply put, climate sideboards limit IRA funding to practices proven to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Republican lawmakers contend those limits don’t always help farmers because their operations may not benefit from approved practices like cover crops. GOP lawmakers say the change will allow programs to be more flexible, covering problems occurring at a given time without impacting other things that may not be an issue in the future.

Democrats argue that removing those sideboards means funding to reduce climate change will be used for other purposes. As one Democrat official put it, “everyone agrees conservation is good for the environment, but not all conservation has a direct effect on the climate.”

Looming battle for nutrition

Despite Democrat warnings that they would oppose nutrition funding cut, the Thompson’s bill proposes what essentially amounts to a $27 billion cut in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits over the next 10 years. Republicans contend that SNAP benefits will remain the same. However, that doesn’t consider rule changes and revised budget projections that essentially mean less future funding for nutrition programs. The new math also allows for an additional $10 million into trade promotion and horticulture programs.

Democrat Ag Committee Ranking Member David Scott says the bill confirms his worst fears. He contends the $27 billion reduction in food purchasing power would not only increase hunger, but also harm jobs in the agriculture, transportation, manufacturing, and grocery sectors.

“This bill does a disservice to American agriculture because it doesn’t provide a path forward to getting a bill passed on the House Floor.,” Scott says.

Ag Secretary loses key tool

The proposed farm bill would also take away the Secretary of Agriculture’s ability to use funds from the Commodity Credit Corporation to address emergencies like natural disasters and pandemics. Democrats fear this will hurt USDA’s ability to responds to emergencies. Republicans say that authority belongs in Congress.

Interestingly, one Republican aide argued this is not just aimed at President Biden but also a potential Donald Trump administration. When Trump essentially started a trade war by imposing tariffs on Chinese goods, his administration used CCC funds to mitigate the effects on American farmers. Privately, some Republicans says this might make him less likely to take similar action in a second turn since he would need to go through Congressional lawmakers to avoid greater harm to American producers.

Other issues addressed

 As with any piece of legislation spanning 942 pages, there are plenty of details that stakeholders are still pouring over. Additional provisions include:

  • The Class I milk mover will revert to the “higher of” formula advocated by many in the industry, overturing a change in the 2018 Farm Bill. Whole milk will also again be permitted in school lunches.

  • Language in the bill restricts state and local entities from establishing additional standards on agricultural goods. This is intended to combat laws like California Proposition 12, which prohibited pork products from animals confined to smaller living spaces.

  • Additional regulations mandating more U.S. produced agricultural goods in international food assistance program.

So, there it is. After months (years) of hearings, speculation and legislative proposals, lawmakers finally have a farm bill draft to debate. Expect plenty of that in the coming weeks.

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