What Is the Farm Bill & How Does it Impact Today’s Farmers?
Known as the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, the “Farm Bill” was enacted in 1933 during the Great Depression to create a safety net for farmers and other citizens. It supported farmers with subsidies, fed the hungry through government food programs, and protected the environment by ensuring it was not over-farmed.
The bill is renewed every five years, with the next renewal being in 2023.
Why Is the Farm Bill Important for Today’s Farmers?
The current version provides for $867 billion in support to American farmers through several United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs with attention to four specific areas:
- Farmer Livelihoods
- Local Food Systems & Healthy Food Access
- Soil, Water & Climate
- Equal Opportunity for All Farmers
Through the years, the focus of the Farm Bill has essentially remained the same, but there have been changes based on society’s shifting needs.
What does the new bill include, and does it affect you?
Current Farm Bill: Pros & Cons
As with any legislation, there are pros and cons for everyone it touches.
Benefits of the Current Farm Bill
- Allows previously uncovered farmers with more diversified operations to access safety net programs,
- Directs USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) to create a Local Food Policy, helping farmers and ranchers have better access to insurance programs,
- Eliminates the King Amendment, which limits states’ rights to establish standards on farm and animal products coming into their state as well as on state protections for animals, the environment, food safety, and worker health and safety,
- Combines the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program and Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) into the new Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP),
- Reinstates the position of an Undersecretary for Rural Development,
- Establishes a new Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Forms of Production, a 15-member advisory committee, and competitive grants authority, and authorizes the creation of 10 pilot Urban and Suburban County Committees and community compost and food waste reduction pilot programs,
- Reauthorizes the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives Program (formerly the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program) to include a produce prescription program,
- Extends funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) minus the work requirements established in the House version.
- Allows for improvements for certified organic growers with increases in the Organic Initiative payment cap within the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a new organic allocation within the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and mandatory funding for the collection of organic production data,
- Increases payments for cover crops, crop rotations, advanced grazing management within the CSP, and authorized payment for comprehensive conservation planning,
- Authorizes a National Genetics Resources Program, a National Strategic Germplasm and Cultivar Collection Assessment and Utilization Plan, and establishes other vital policies to support public, locally and regionally adapted seed varieties to help farmers navigate a changing climate,
- Combines the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) and Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (Section 2501) into the new Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) program,
- Improves farm safety programs to ensure farmers of color receive equitable relief for producers who received incorrect loan servicing by the USDA,
- Ensures that farmers who received land without a will (often African American farmers and farmers of color) can finally access USDA soil and water protection programs,
- Includes $40 million in mandatory funding for scholarships for 1890 land-grant institutions and agricultural colleges created primarily to serve African American students, and
- Legalizes Industrial Hemp and allows tribes, states, and territories to establish regulatory structures so farmers and ranchers can produce it while also getting federal farm program benefits.
Drawbacks of the Farm Bill
- Widens loopholes for mega-farms to use commodity and crop insurance subsidies,
- Fails to provide additional mandatory funding for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program,
- Lacks regulatory flexibility that would allow school food authorities to procure local and regional food and farm products,
- Reduces mandatory funding for the Community Food Projects grant program and does not provide mandatory funding for the Food Safety Outreach Program,
- Establishes cuts over the long-term for CSP past the year 2023, amounting to advance cuts to the CSP and EQIP for the next farm bill,
- Fails to prioritize research on climate change and provides no baseline funding for plant breeding research,
- Fails to increase allocated dollars for socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers in major conservation programs (CSP and EQIP), and
- Removes mandatory funding for the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program and does not provide mandatory funding for Individual Development Accounts (IDAs), which are important for beginning farmers.
Will the Farm Bill Affect Your Farm?
The farm bill is how the U.S. government establishes its official food and agricultural policy. Its impact on the farming industry, its related programs and industries, and the communities they support is tremendous.
If you have legal concerns or questions about how the Farm Bill can affect farming operations in Arkansas, call the Law Group of Northwest Arkansas LLP. You can reach out online or call (479) 316-2584 to set up an initial consultation.