What do you mean by ‘farm bill’?

Eleven times between 1965 and 2014, Congress passed giant measures supporting an array of agriculture and nutrition-related programs. That legislation, which recurs approximately every four to six years, is known colloquially as the “farm bill.”

Passage of the next farm bill is expected in 2018, but the discussion about its programs and provisions has already begun in earnest. That discussion begins with understanding that farm bill is the sum of all its parts.

The legislation is made up of several different titles, or specific areas of focus. Subject-wise, each title is more or less independent from one another. In a perfect world, each title could stand on its own merit and be passed individually with an up or down vote. The real world is not so perfect.

While the saying “good policy makes for good politics” is absolutely true, it leaves out the fact that passage of good policy sometimes requires tremendously good politics.

The farm bill is the ultimate intersection of policy and politics because agreement to include language in any one title often requires agreement to include language in another title or titles. Since the farm bill is the sum of all its parts, every part is necessary for completion.

Successful navigation of this all-or-nothing journey requires playing games of compromise, chess and chicken (no pun intended).

To get a feel for where the 2018 farm bill games begin, below is a description of the titles included in the 2014 farm bill:

Title 1: Commodities.  Covers price and income supports for America’s producers of corn, wheat, soybeans and other heavily produced/traded crops like rice, dairy and sugar.

Title 2: Conservation.  Sets the resource conservation requirements that govern participation in commodity and crop insurance programs. It funds programs geared toward helping farmers conserve natural resources in their fields, pastures. The conservation title also covers easement, land retirement and conservation technical assistance programs.


Title 3: Trade.  Funds food aid programs to countries overseas. It also deals with issues related to overall food exports.

Title 4: Nutrition.  Covers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly referred to by its acronym SNAP or more by the more colloquial term “food stamps,” as well as a variety of smaller nutrition programs to help low-income Americans afford food for their families.

Title 5: Credit. Funds federal loan programs aimed at helping farmers secure the financial credit necessary to achieving growth and sustainability on their farms.

Title 6: Rural Development.  Helps foster economic growth in rural areas through business, agribusiness and community development; housing; and infrastructure improvement programs.

Title 7: Research, Extension and Related Matters.  Funds innovative, cutting-edge food and agricultural research, education and extension programs that help American farmers and ranchers outperform producers in other countries.

Title 8: Forestry.  Provides incentives and programs (not included in the conservation title) that help promote preservation, improvement and overall good stewardship of America’s forests.

Title 9:  Energy.  Helps foster job creation in the new avenues of renewable energy, bio-based manufacturing and advanced biofuels. Expansion in these areas could reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil.

Title 10: Specialty Crops & Horticulture.  Sustains farmers market and local food programs, funding for organic research and certification programs, as well as funding for data collection and evaluation specific to specialty crops (organic and nonorganic fruits, vegetables, nuts and nursery crops).

Title 11: Crop Insurance.  Offers premium subsidies to farmers. It provides subsidies to the private crop insurance companies who provide federal crop insurance. This title also authorizes USDA’s Risk Management Agency to research, develop and alter certain crop and revenue-based insurance policies.

Title 12: Miscellaneous.  Encompasses a wide range of issues, including livestock producers and livestock health; agricultural labor safety and workforce development; as well as advocacy and outreach programs geared toward farmers and ranchers who are either just starting out, are socially disadvantaged or are military veterans.