One of the most important laws for farmers and ranchers in the US is this farm bill, a comprehensive document covering a wide range of programs – from access to food to education and training for growers. The previous agriculture law, which was signed in 2018, expires next year. Therefore, a new law must be passed in 2023. But before President Biden can give his approval, various components of the bill — and all of its moving parts — will be proposed, debated, and refined by Congress.
Because this legislation is so important to food producers, many groups – including industry stakeholders, unions and foreign departments – are rallying on what they want to see included or changed in the bill. Some of these discussions are ongoing. For example, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) will host its annual general meeting later this month, where the Farm Bill is sure to be a major talking point. However, many groups have clear priorities and hope to persuade Congress to see it their way.
Modern farmer reached out to more than two dozen state departments of agriculture, producer groups, industry groups and unions to learn what each wanted from the upcoming Farm Bill. Here’s what they say is most important.
Make insurance more accessible
Crop and farm insurance is a key concern for many groups, particularly to increase coverage and ensure growers have wider access to relevant insurance. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, in her response, noted that despite economic uncertainty, extreme weather conditions and supply challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, farmers have had to remain resilient. As such, she desires a strengthening of the domestic food system, in part through more “direct support to our farmers, particularly black farmers and others in historically underserved communities who see skyrocketing input costs; better crop insurance offerings and disaster protection, especially for specialty crops and our dairy industry.” Fried’s colleagues in Kansas and Nebraska echoed similar thoughts, with Steve Wellman, director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, noting that state crop insurance is used for more than 90 percent of Nebraska’s crops .
Groups like the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) want crop insurance to be used to incentivize farmers. It hopes Congress will consider offering crop insurance rebates to farmers who grow cover crops or use other methods to reduce their own risk. Advocacy groups like Regenerate America agree, demanding that Congress could offer lower interest rates, loan deferrals, or flexible terms on their insurance to help farmers accelerate their transition to regenerative farming practices without leaving gaps in their coverage.
Crop insurance is particularly important for some producer organizations. The National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) noted that crop insurance costs have increased dramatically over the past decade, with an average increase of 49 percent. That’s unsustainable for growers, who produce nearly 37 million acres of wheat in the country. “As margins continue to shrink in the face of inflation,” NAWG replied, “it becomes increasingly criminal to purchase crop insurance high enough to provide an adequate safety net.”
Center for Climate Protection
Many authorities agreed that prioritizing climate initiatives in the next Farm Bill is crucial. The difference is how aggressive and far-reaching each organization thinks these initiatives should be.
The National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association was just one of nearly 200 organizations that submitted an open letter to President Biden with detailed requests for the upcoming bill. The most important among them is to consider this bill as a crucial piece of climate change legislation. “We will not avoid the worst impacts of climate change unless this nation reduces heat-trapping emissions, including from agriculture,” the letter said. It continues to call for research and incentives to help farmers and ranchers reduce emissions, as well as help to implement “agricultural practices and labor policies that better enable their farms and workers to withstand extreme weather conditions.”
Other organizations have taken a softer tone, including NASDA. The organization has said it supports increasing funding for the Agricultural Conservation Program, which attempts to preserve certain tracts of land for agricultural or grazing purposes. It also supports incentive schemes for farmers to implement on-site practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration, but stresses that these practices should be voluntary. NASDA is also demanding compensation for manufacturers who are already adopting climate-friendly strategies. Producer organizations, including the American Soybean Association, are calling for funding to be concentrated and directed toward programs that address crop soil and water quality and land management programs, rather than retirement programs. For this reason, they prioritize the Environmental Quality Incentives Program over the Conservation Stewardship Program as a grantee.
Wyoming is a state that is clearly focused on conservation efforts. Doug Miyamoto, director of the state Department of Agriculture, says conservation is a priority as long as it’s consistent with production. “Implementing conservation practices must also increase the economic viability of farms in the face of rising food demand and exponentially rising input costs,” says Miyamoto, who also emphasizes that the Farm Bill should separate one-off funding opportunities from ongoing funding of conservation programs. “Additional funding is welcome, but replacing program funding with legislation outside of the Farm Bill is worrying.”
Help hemp thrive
The 2018 Farm Bill officially removed hemp from the Schedule 1 Controlled Substances list, allowing it to become an agricultural product like any other. But producers say hemp is still not being treated like other crops, and they want restrictions around hemp to be reviewed.
For Florida’s Nikki Fried, the first task should be to break the “arbitrary 0.3 percent THC threshold,” which requires that every hemp harvested contain less than 0.3 percent THC (the main psychoactive compound in marijuana). should. However, producers say there is no evidence that 0.3 percent THC is the dividing line between psychoactive and non-psychoactive properties, and it can be a difficult line to cross. If some of the hemp harvested is found to contain more than 0.3 percent THC, the entire harvest can be destroyed, resulting in lost income and time for growers.
In addition, there are barriers to who can produce hemp. The Hemp Committee of the National Cannabis Industry Association is calling for this bill to remove the ban preventing convicted felons from owning or participating in state or federal hemp licensing programs. “The current blanket ban on those with criminal convictions from owning or directing hemp businesses penalizes many entrepreneurs who have been exemplary citizens for decades and does little to promote public safety,” they say. The group is also calling for a relaxation of testing requirements for industrial hemp, which is often used for fuel or seed rather than for human consumption. Finally, the Hemp Committee wants a federal loan program to support disadvantaged hemp farmers.
Securing our food systems
Food safety, both in terms of access and disease prevention, has been high on the list for many organizations. Corresponding Regenerate America, the bill should address the imbalance between large national manufacturers and smaller, local retailers. “By shifting purchasing power to regional, regenerative systems, nutrition programs can increase access to fresh, wholesome, American-grown foods,” it says. The group notes that the nutrition title receives the majority of funding from the Farm Bill and should therefore be a key focus for Congress.
The open letter to President Biden goes even further, urging the President to end hunger nationwide. “The next farm bill must protect and strengthen food assistance programs to ensure adequate resources, adequate staffing and access to nutritious food for all people struggling against hunger and food insecurity resulting from wealth and income inequalities often caused by systemic racism.” In similarly, NASDA urges Congress to include supply chain solutions that increase food equity for the socially disadvantaged and BIPOC individuals. It also recommends that the 2023 Farm Bill increase the number of farmers markets and retailers accepting SNAP benefits to give consumers better access to fresh fruits and vegetables and to support local farms.