Farm bill news brings cautious optimism

Differing proposals also highlight divergent priorities across the ag world.

Joshua Baethge, Policy editor

May 2, 2024

4 Min Read
Capitol building at sunset
Getty Images/FotografieLink

News that Congressional ag leaders may soon consider farm bill proposals elicited varying responses from across the ag world. On Wednesday Senate Agriculture Committee leader Debbie Stabenow, D- Mich., and House Committee Leader Glenn “GT” Thompson announced they would soon bring new legislation to their respective committees. While a new bill this year is far from certain, most agree that any sign of progress is a good thing.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called Stabenow’s “Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act” a comprehensive and thoughtful proposal. He praised it for advancing food and nutrition security, promoting sustainable agriculture production and conservation practices, expanding opportunities for new farmers and strengthening the farm safety net. He also believes proposed investments in the bioeconomy will bring more good paying jobs to rural America.

“The act avoids harmful reductions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and maintains the historic commitment to conservation contained in the Inflation Reduction Act,” Vilsack says. “Given the challenges that may arise in agriculture on any given day, the proposal wisely avoids unnecessary restrictions on the use of Commodity Credit Corporation funds. The outline provided today by Senator Stabenow advances both Democratic and Republican priorities, reflecting her understanding that any farm bill in the end must be a bipartisan bill.”

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall says AFBF is encouraged to see the House and Senate proposals recognize how falling commodity prices and increased inflation require additional investments in farm programs. He also cautioned that details are important, and more work still needs to be done.

Duvall acknowledged that there will inevitably be disagreements on specific provisions and funding levels. He encouraged Stabenow and Thompson to hold bill markups this month so that all Agriculture Committee members can bring their ideas forward.

“We urge lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to work together in a bipartisan manner to find consensus and pass a farm bill before the extension expires this year,” Duvall says.

Thompson says he expects to bring the bill before the House Ag Committee on May 23. However, Ranking Agriculture Committee Member David Scott, D- GA., say Democrats will not support it due to expected cuts in nutrition spend. What exactly those cuts will look like remain to be seen as Thompson has yet to release the specifics of Republican nutrition funding proposals.

Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member John Boozman, R- Ark. was slightly more upbeat, calling Stabenow’s proposals a “welcome development.” Still, he noted that Senate Republicans may not present their own farm bill draft until after the House considers its legislation.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Vice President of Government Affairs Ethan Lane says his organization supports the House farm bill framework. He says NCBA was especially pleased to see Chairman Thompson focus on voluntary conservation programs.

“Unfortunately, the Senate Agriculture Committee majority has failed to engage in the same level of outreach to real cattle producers, and their framework reflects that lack of producer input,” Lane says. “While there are some bipartisan elements to the Senate proposal, there are many provisions which would be harmful to livestock producers.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition prefers the Senate bill. NSAC policy director Mike Lavender said he was encouraged to see the Sane proposal take “meaningful steps to build a fair and accessible farm safety net for farmers and ranchers, protect conservation and climate spending, and invest in local and regional food systems.”

He expressed concern regarding the House proposal, which he says represents a marked difference from the Senate bill.

“Neither of the documents released today offer full legislative text, and NSAC will reserve final assessments of the farm bill and its impacts – from advancing racial equity to investing in healthy communities, leveling the playing field for small and mid-sized farmers, and building toward a climate-resilient future – until full bill text becomes available,” Lavender says.

National Milk Producers Federation President Gregg Doud says dairy farmers and cooperatives are better-served by the certainty of a five-year farm bill, adding that all of dairy is eager to see the bill-drafting process “get moving.”

The Fertilizer Institute President Corey Rosenbusch said his group was encouraged to see many of its conservation and nutrient stewardship priorities included in both bills.

TFI is pushing for Certified Crop Advisors and Technical Service Providers to be permitted to write and approve nutrient stewardships plans. The Institute also supports a pathway for enhanced efficiency fertilizer to be eligible for the Environmental Quality Incentives program.

Expect lots more posturing in coming weeks as various interest groups jostle to ensure their priorities are included in the farm bill. Where the legislative process leads remains anyone’s guess. Still, after months of little movement, the push for a new farm bill seems to be gaining momentum. Maybe.

About the Author(s)

Joshua Baethge

Policy editor, Farm Progress

Joshua Baethge covers a wide range of government issues affecting agriculture. Before joining Farm Progress, he spent 10 years as a news and feature reporter in Texas. During that time, he covered multiple state and local government entities, while also writing about real estate, nightlife, culture and whatever else was the news of the day.

Baethge earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. In his free time, he enjoys going to concerts, discovering new restaurants, finding excuses to be outside and traveling as much as possible. He is based in the Dallas area where he lives with his wife and two kids.

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