March 29, 2022

Farm Bill 101: What You Need to Know About Its Reauthorization and Why It Matters to You

Farm Bill Blog Series (Part 2 of 5)
Holland & Knight Eyes on Washington Blog
Peter Tabor | Kayla Gebeck Carroll
U.S. Capitol Building

The $428 billion Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (Pub. L. 115-334), or more commonly referred to as the 2018 Farm Bill, is set to expire on Sept. 30, 2023, impacting virtually every part of the agriculture sector. As such, the U.S. agriculture community, food producers and processors, and state, local, tribal and federal officials have turned their attention to the Farm Bill's reauthorization.

What Is the Farm Bill?

The Farm Bill is the single largest financial commitment that the U.S. government makes to U.S. food and agriculture producers, providing nutrition assistance, crop subsidies, crop insurance, rural broadband internet deployment and a range of other programs and initiatives. The Farm Bill is an omnibus, multiyear law that allows policymakers to set priorities for food and agriculture sector for a period, usually every five years.

The first Farm Bill was enacted in 1933 in part to address the collapsed commodities market caused by the Great Depression and to bring stability for U.S. food and agriculture producers who suffered devastating losses as a result of the Dust Bowl. Historically, the Farm Bill prioritized support for growers of staple commodities – corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, rice, peanuts, dairy and sugar. Beginning in 1973, the Farm Bill added a nutrition title. Nutrition assistance is now the single largest Farm Bill outlay, accounting for roughly three quarters of expenditures. The current Farm Bill includes 12 titles, outlined below:

  • Title I: Commodities – price income support and disaster assistance for major crops
  • Title II: Conservation – environmental stewardship of farmlands
  • Title III: Trade – agricultural export, international food assistance programs
  • Title IV: Nutrition – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR)
  • Title V: Credit – direct government loans, private loan guarantees
  • Title VI: Rural Development – rural business and community development programs
  • Title VII: Research, Extension and Related Matters – agricultural research and extension programs
  • Title VIII: Forestry – forestry management programs run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Forestry Service
  • Title IX: Energy – farm and community renewable energy systems
  • Title X: Horticulture – supports specialty crop, organic and hemp production
  • Title XI: Crop Insurance – federal crop insurance provided USDA's Risk Management Agency
  • Title XII: Miscellaneous – programs impacting livestock and poultry production, beginning farmers and ranchers

Four titles – nutrition (76 percent), crop insurance (9 percent), commodities (7 percent) and conservation (7 percent) – account for 99 percent of all Farm Bill expenditures. While nutrition will undoubtedly be an important topic in the next Farm Bill negotiations, the conservation title is increasing in profile and importance, reflecting the Biden Administration's emphasis on addressing climate change through improved agricultural practices, often referred to as "climate-smart agriculture."

When Does the Process for Farm Bill Reauthorization Begin?

To start the reauthorization process, Congress has begun soliciting stakeholder input to establish its priorities for the next Farm Bill. The House and Senate Agriculture Committees each must draft, amend and vote on their own versions of the Farm Bill, which are then reconciled before being voted on in final form. Once passed, the bill is sent to the president for signature, allowing the USDA to begin implementation.

Why Is This Important?

Essentially, the Farm Bill is a roadmap for government expenditures. Many Farm Bill provisions require action by Congress each year in the federal budget legislative process. But the priority-setting nature of the Farm Bill means it directs how federal dollars are spent each year, so stakeholders must engage with Congress to ensure that their Farm Bill priorities are reflected.

Moreover, a key factor in determining what the final priorities are for the 2023 Farm Bill is that the Farm Bill reauthorization process is happening in an election year. With polls indicating Democrats are likely to lose control of the House and perhaps the Senate, Republican lawmakers will be in no hurry to agree to Farm Bill provisions if they are confident that they will hold the pen next year when the Farm Bill is finalized. As such, stakeholders must engage with both Democrat and Republican agriculture leadership.

Holland & Knight's Farm Bill blog series will provide insight into what is in the package, emerging areas of interest at the federal level and how to ensure that your priorities are included in the final bill. For more information on the 2023 Farm Bill and latest information on Farm Bill negotiations, please contact Kayla Gebeck Carroll and Peter Tabor.

Read More About the Farm Bill

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