Where we stand: The farm bill April update

An update on ongoing farm bill negotiations with insights from Nathan Bowen, Irrigation Association vice president advocacy and public affairs.
BY LUKE REYNOLDS
Where-we-stand-The-farm-bill-April-update

The 2024 Farm Bill, a cornerstone of U.S. agriculture and food legislation, stands at a juncture. 

As of now, the farm bill has been granted an extension through September 2024 amid ongoing negotiations that could reshape its future provisions.  

G.T. Thompson, R-Pennsylvania, House Agriculture Committee chairman is spearheading efforts to advance the bill targeting a committee markup by the end of May, with hopes to pass it before Memorial Day.  

“I have been clear in my intent: Congress can and must craft a bipartisan farm bill that aligns the farm safety net with the needs of producers, expands market access and trade promotion opportunities, strengthens program operations to demand transparency and accountability to the taxpayer, and reinforces not only the importance of helping our neighbors in need, but doing so without indiscriminate expansion of our nutrition safety net,” says Thompson. 

However, there remains significant headwinds to Congress’ success, according to Nathan Bowen, Irrigation Association advocacy and public affairs vice president. 

“Chairman Thompson’s commitment to advancing the farm bill through the committee by Memorial Day is a positive step forward,” says Bowen. “However, the stark differences in spending priorities between Republicans and Democrats highlight the complexities of achieving a consensus that meets the needs of all stakeholders. It’s crucial that both parties find common ground to support the agricultural community effectively.” 

Central to the debate is the method of funding necessary updates and programs, says Bowen. The new Republican proposal suggests using spending offsets from various sources including nutrition programs, climate initiatives and internal United States Department of Agriculture funds.  

Specifically, it aims to make future updates to the Thrifty Food Plan budget-neutral and proposes integrating approximately $13 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act’s conservation funding into existing farm bill conservation programs. Moreover, it involves reallocating billions from the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation fund to enhance crop reference prices, crop insurance and other agricultural support programs. 

“Consideration of the bill by the House Ag Committee would be a positive first step, though the significant challenges lie ahead in getting a bill through both houses of Congress and enacted into law,” says Bowen. “It is increasingly unlikely to see any bill finished before the November elections.” 

Challenges and legislative outlook 

Despite these overtures towards compromise, the response from House Agriculture Committee Democrats suggests that the path forward is fraught with complexity. During a recent closed-door meeting, many expressed concerns that the proposal still prioritizes financial offsets at the expense of crucial nutrition and climate measures, as reported by Poltico. 

House ag democrats released a document outlining their farm bill priorities in February.  

“After months of Republican discord and disorder delaying the passage of the farm bill, the principles document presents an honest assessment of where House Democrats are on farm bill policy and offers our Republican colleagues an unambiguous and straightforward path to passing a strong, effective, and bipartisan farm bill,” says Ranking Member David Scott, D-Georgia. 

With significant aspects, such as the climate parameters linked to Inflation Reduction Act funding, still under negotiation, reaching a consensus remains a challenging endeavor. 

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