Pace starts to quicken for farm bill deliberations

The current farm bill doesn’t expire until September 2018, but Farm Bureau, other groups, and both the House and Senate ag committees are working on the next one.

Among the activities:

  • The House Ag Committee’s Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities has already begun taking testimony from commodity groups.
  • Field hearings have been announced for the Senate Ag Committee.
  • Members of both the House and Senate ag committees (including Sen. Joe Donnelly, the only member from Indiana on either committee) are collecting feedback from their constituencies.

Farm Bureau is also taking action. A working group appointed by the American Farm Bureau Federation has already studied the issue, and resources regarding the farm bill are available online. Indiana Farm Bureau also appointed a farm bill working group last fall, and the farm bill was one of the major topics of discussion during the delegate session held in January as part of the AFBF convention.

In March, AFBF and 11 other farm and ranch groups asked congressional budget and appropriations committees to increase funding for farm programs in the 2018 farm bill. In a letter to the committees, the coalition underlined the need for a strong farm safety net in the face of financial hardship not seen for decades.

“While we do not yet have a full-fledged financial crisis in rural America, a good many farmers and ranchers are not going to be able to cash-flow in 2017,” the groups wrote. “With USDA projecting continued low prices in 2018 and beyond, this situation threatens to quickly and vastly expand with each and every crop year.”

The 2018 farm bill presents a prime opportunity for Congress to respond to these sharp declines in farm prices and farm income. In previous years, agriculture was the only industry to take voluntary cutbacks to help reduce the federal deficit.

“Now we look to Congress to provide the resources necessary to help America’s farmers and ranchers through this very difficult period,” the groups wrote.

An earlier letter, this one from a diverse coalition of 502 groups that included AFBF, Bread for the World, Feeding America, the Food Research & Action Center, the National Association of Counties and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, addressed the critical issue of proposed cuts in farm bill programs.

The letter strongly urged congressional leaders “to reject calls for additional cuts” during a time when the ag and rural economies are showing stress, a significant number of American households financially are struggling to meet basic nutrition needs and U.S. farm income has declined 46 percent from only three years ago.

The last farm bill contributed $23 billion in savings to deficit reduction over 10 years at the time of passage, the letter states – the first time when spending for a farm bill was voluntarily reduced before Congress even began considering the measure.

“It was the only reauthorization bill in that Congress that voluntarily offered savings,” the letter said. “These difficult cuts resulted from hard choices made to reform and reduce the farm safety net, conservation initiatives, and nutrition assistance.”

“We have all begun preparing for the 2018 farm bill and recognize that passing a bill with additional funding reductions would be extremely difficult, if not impossible,” the letter said. “Therefore, as the Senate and House agriculture committees begin preparing for the 2018 farm bill, it is imperative that the committees not be hamstrung by further budget or appropriations cuts to any farm bill program.”