Where we stand: The farm bill May update

The chairs of both the Senate and House agriculture committees each released a title-by-title summary providing clearer details of what a final 2024 Farm Bill might look like.
BY LUKE REYNOLDS
Dollar banknotes and wheat grains. Agricultural income concept

As negotiations for the 2024 Farm Bill progress, pivotal updates have emerged amidst a backdrop of political complexity and urgent needs. The legislative journey towards a balanced and effective farm bill has been fraught with challenges and steeped in strategic negotiations but key players are starting to “show their cards,” according to Nathan Bowen, vice president of advocacy and public affairs at the Irrigation Association, Fairfax, Virginia. 

Current status of 2024 Farm Bill negotiations 

A markup of the farm bill is slated to occur by the end of this month, but the absence of released legislative text has left the specifics of what a 2024 Farm Bill might look like unpublished. These specifics, which remain under wraps, are crucial as they hold potential implications for funding and policy directions, says Bowen. 

Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pennsylvania, released additional details May 10 regarding the bill including a title-by-title summary and an open letter to the community. 

In his open letter, Thompson has emphasized the bipartisan intent behind the bill. 

“There exists a few, loud armchair critics that want to divide the Committee and break the process,” Thompson wrote. “A farm bill has long been an example of consensus, where both sides must take a step off the soapbox and have tough conversations.” 

Some of the highlights from the title-by-title summary include:  

  • Enhancements to price loss coverage and agriculture risk coverage programs: Increases support to help farmers manage the economic impacts of inflation and rising costs, including a significant rise in the statutory reference prices and guarantees for these programs. 
  • Expansion of base acres: Offers a one-time opportunity for producers to establish base acres for those currently without them, aiming to include more producers in the Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs. 
  • Modernization of marketing loans and sugar policy: Updates loan rates and policies to better reflect current economic realities and support the domestic sugar and cotton industries. 
  • Enhances EQIP by incorporating proven technologies and innovative programs. Incorporates precision agriculture into EQIP, based on provisions from H.R.1459, by adding precision agriculture technologies to the 90% payment, water conservation and irrigation efficiency practices, incentive contracts, and conservation innovation grants. 
  • Enhancements to disaster programs: Improves compensation mechanisms under the Livestock Indemnity Program and other disaster assistance programs to offer more robust support to producers affected by natural disasters and protected species. 

Diverging views and financial concerns 

Representatives of both parties have expressed apprehension regarding the financial strategies of the proposed bill, which center around the allocation of funds and the potential impacts on vital programs, particularly those related to nutrition, climate initiatives, conservation programs and how to pay for all of it, says Bowen.  

U.S. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, released her proposed version of the 2024 Farm Bill May 1 that includes 100 bipartisan bills. 

“This is a serious proposal that reflects bipartisan priorities to keep farmers farming, families fed, and rural communities strong,” says Stabenow. “The foundation of every successful Farm Bill is built on holding together the broad, bipartisan coalition of farmers, rural communities, nutrition and hunger advocates, researchers, conservationists, and the climate community. This is that bill, and I welcome my Republican colleagues to take it seriously and rejoin us at the negotiating table so we can finish our work by the end of the year. Farmers, families, and rural communities cannot wait any longer on the 2024 Farm Bill.” 

According to a press release from the U.S. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, the bill Stabenow released “addresses the issue of foreign ownership of farmland, builds on our commitment to rural communities, makes meaningful investments into the farm safety net to provide certainty to all farmers, ensures that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) keeps up with the realities of American life, and brings the historic investment in climate-smart conservation practices into the Farm Bill.” 

Legislative path and bipartisan necessity 

Achieving overwhelming bipartisan support is essential, as the bill faces significant hurdles in both houses of Congress, says Bowen. The anticipated markup phase, involving potential amendments and debates, is seen as a critical step in refining the bill’s provisions and there will be challenges finding that consensus. 

“Given the partisan gridlock that has characterized this Congress, the challenges House Republican leadership have had getting major bills through the House, and the urban-rural coalition that is traditionally required to pass a farm bill, a bipartisan agreement on the bill is essential to getting a bill done this year,” says Bowen. “The next few weeks will be instructive on whether that is possible.” 

Outlook and advocacy 

As summer approaches, stakeholders remain cautiously optimistic but are prepared for the possibility of an extension if breakthroughs in negotiations falter. The Irrigation Association continues to advocate vigorously for its priorities within the farm bill, aiming to influence outcomes that align with sustainable agricultural practices and efficient water use, says Bowen. 

“As we move forward, we continue to advocate vigorously for the Irrigation Association’s priorities related to the farm bill,” says Bowen. “We are hopeful for positive developments this summer and remain committed to influencing the bill in ways that support the wise and efficient use of our water resources, while supporting the productivity of our nation’s agricultural sector. While we aim to see a final bill that addresses current agricultural challenges and sets a robust foundation for future growth and sustainability, we recognize that another extension of the current farm bill is still very much a possibility.” 

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