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AFF Sentinel V20 #53-Political Realities of the Farm Bill

The Discussion Points Are Pretty Well Predictable

Steve Dittmer | AFF Sentinel

Colorado Springs, CO

Originally sent to subscribers 11/02/23

There is at present not a lot of frightening things in the Farm Bill. That is the result of hard work by NCBA, state affiliates and other farm groups friendly to the free market philosophy. The other influencing factor is your input as a participant in agriculture and your comments to lawmakers and your vote.

Of course, the frightening things could still pop up, so you need to stay vigilant.

Former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns gave both the 30,000-ft. and practical political views of Farm Bill mechanics recently, on a webinar with the Colorado Livestock Assn.

Johanns, also former U.S. Nebraska Senator and governor, is now with the management consultants Alliantgroup. He started with a reading of the key players involved with the Farm Bill. Sen. Debbie Stabenow is Senate Ag Committee chairman and is retiring after this term. Sen. John Boozman, the ranking member, is from Arkansas and is naturally protective of southern crops and their prices. Rep. Glenn Thompson, from Pennsylvania, is chairman of the House Ag Committee, knows what he’s doing and is never stumped when asked a question, Johanns said. Rep. David Scott is the Democrat former House Ag chairman from Georgia, now the ranking member and his “heart is in the SNAP program,” Johanns said. His mantra is do not cut that program and his ally on the Senate side is Stabenow.

Johanns then noted the political pressures on the Farm Bill. The Freedom Caucus is 40-plus members who make no pretensions about why they got elected: to cut spending. Speaker Mike Johnson is shooting for a November Farm Bill. This will likely be the first trillion-dollar Farm Bill, with roughly $1.2 trillion being the nutrition sector, accounting for 84 percent of the spending. Commodities will account for four percent ($69 billion). Crop insurance will cost around $101 billion, disaster assistance $15 billion and Inflation Reduction Act climate change related spending $17 billion. There are some additional nutrition programs at $60 billion and some trade programs at $25 billion. The Inflation Reduction climate change money is still there, with the House Republicans wanting to repurpose the money and the Senate wanting it to be used as originally intended.

The SNAP program, formerly Food Stamps, will be a battleground and part of that will be conservatives’ desire to re-impose work requirements on able-bodied applicants.

The Democrats and nutrition program advocates do not favor work requirements or any cuts in the program.

There is some pressure to raise commodity reference prices, which runs counter to desires to cut spending.

To get a bipartisan Farm Bill through Congress, there needs to be enough Senate support to get 60 votes and satisfy the House desires to cut spending. There will likely be very different versions from the two houses of Congress. It is very likely the House version will test the new House Speaker’s following on the floor. This is one bill Johanns thinks could put the Speaker’s job in jeopardy. If the House passes a Farm Bill with no Democrat support, that version will likely fail in the Senate. The odds are good that the Senate will pass a bipartisan version and the fight shifts to Conference Committee.

There is not expected to be a standalone livestock title in this Farm Bill and neither USDA nor the White House is pushing for one. There will be a disaster program including livestock and forage indemnity provisions. There will be funding for EQIP, some animal health programs and there is support from both houses for more risk management opportunities. Livestock producers are always pushing for less regulation.

Of course, there have been indications from lawmakers as to their wishes. Boozman has said commodity reference prices will increase or else. There will be some minor revisions in the climate change provisions so Democrats can claim a victory. The nutrition programs will be fully funded or very close, with this being the biggest battle in the Farm Bill.

There is discussion on “guardrails” on Commodity Credit spending, as that’s a $35 billion program that features large discretion on the part of the Secretary. The Freedom Caucus will push for some limits.

On other issues, Johanns said the push for regenerative agriculture will likely not go far and the Sugar program is losing support in Congress. Crop programs will likely be a target for spending cuts. There has been talk of a permanent disaster fund but it is not likely to become reality this time around.

The question and answer session raised interesting points. The question of checkoff support was raised. Johanns said there is nothing that’s an equivalent of checkoffs going into the market and promoting the products. There is no question of their value. There is sometime discussion of management but little support for throwing the baby out with the bath water. Farmers and ranchers want to produce quality products and sell them. If they lost those programs, they would lose substantial aids to producing and marketing.

Johanns termed the Packers and Stockyards Act a “very controversial program.” It’s very definite that some producers can make a case that they can’t find market prices, that they feel there is a lack of transparency. The packers are very involved in the system but it has been “worked over” for years. It is a difficult balance between producers and packers, he said.

Every sector wants producers cared for, production here and processing here. Secretary Tom Vilsack has been supportive of smaller processors but we haven’t seen the results yet. It may someday pay dividends.

The question came up about whether there was ever any chance of reduction in the cost of the nutrition programs. Johanns noted that there were 25 million people on the food stamp programs when he was Ag Secretary. Now, there are 40 million. The Republicans want work requirements. The Democrats want more help for mothers and children.

There are only two ways to reduce costs: 1) reduce the costs of the product or 2) raise the eligibility requirements.

As for climate change and GHG influence on programs, there will be conditions to be able to participate in conservation programs. He does not see a long list of requirements, and Republicans oppose them in general. He doesn’t think USDA is very comfortable with its role in climate change, carbon capture or emissions as the administration envisions them.

The bottom line is that only a bipartisan compromise bill will pass. The last Farm Bill expired Sept. 30 and delays only become a problem on Dec. 31. Without a new Farm Bill, some kind of extension is necessary. There is a saying in Washington, Johanns said, that the Farm Bill gets done but it never gets done on time. There has been some discussion of even a one-year extension and it has happened. Otherwise, it reverts to the Farm Bill version of the 1930s and that’s something no one wants.

Johanns finished with a very important point. The nutrition part of the Farm Bill -- most of the Farm Bill -- does involve lots of spending. But it uses products American farmers and ranchers raise. Politically speaking, we would not likely have a Farm Bill with any agricultural parts without the support of urban legislators.

Contact info for House members:

Conact info for Senators:

Edi. Note: Picture below courtesy beef Check off).


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