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Opinion: Is 2023 a big year for the farm bill?

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There’s nothing quite like a farm bill year.

For those engaged in agricultural policymaking, it’s a pretty big deal. When farm bills come around, policy wonks love to recall the successes and failures of previous bills. No matter how long you’ve been in the ag policy game, everyone always talks about the farm bill in terms of “big years.”

Will this be a big year for a new farm bill? Designed to support farmers and ranchers, assist rural communities and provide food assistance to low-income families, farm bills are typically passed every five years. With 12 titles covering commodity support, crop insurance, agricultural research and much more, it is a massive undertaking.

The first farm bill was a milestone. Passed in 1933, it marked the beginning of legislative support for farmers and ranchers. Since then, Congress has passed 18 farm bills, most recently in 2018.

The Missouri Farm Bureau is closely involved in finding solutions as a divided Congress writes the next farm bill. For farmers and ranchers, ensuring a strong farm safety net is a top priority. Continuing access to affordable risk protection programs, such as crop insurance, is critical to our industry. For the first time ever, the Missouri Farm Bureau formed a farm bill task force to examine our stance on various issues related to farm policy.

The bureau has been at the negotiating table for every farm bill. Another big one, passed in 1973, was the first omnibus farm bill, and the first with a nutrition title. The nutrition title has grown to serve 42 million people under the current law and is the largest of the 12 titles, currently taking 76% of the entire bill’s funding. The rising cost of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is a concern in Congress, but in this day and age, a farm bill cannot get past the finish line without nutrition programs.

Speaking of big years, 1985 certainly fits the bill in more ways than one. The Kansas City Royals won the World Series over the St. Louis Cardinals, and Congress added significant provisions to the farm bill relating to conservation programs and environmental stewardship. This became the “conservation title” or “Title II” of the bill. This title is increasingly important as climate advocates ask for more climate-change initiatives. With the Biden administration’s focus on climate and sustainability, we anticipate lawmakers will be making tough decisions and big changes to the conservation title this year. The Missouri Farm Bureau is asking lawmakers to ensure critical programs stay in place while promoting voluntary, market-based incentive conservation programs. Farmers want options, not one-size-fits-all mandates on their farms.

Congress must act quickly as the current farm bill expires in September, but will their work extend into 2024? April’s monthly Ag Economy Barometer survey of 400 farmers by Purdue University’s Center for Commercial Agriculture found 40% of those responding think Congress will pass a farm bill by the end of September. Yet, 29% think it is somewhat unlikely or very unlikely.

The last week of each month, through September, you can catch an overview of the current state of play with farm policy on our podcast, “Digging In with Missouri Farm Bureau.” Join us as we hear from experts on the legislative landscape, commodity safety net programs and the prospect of big changes to conservation programs. The first installment of this series is available at MOFB.org.

Yes, 2023 is shaping up to be a big year for farm policy, but as far as Cardinals and Royals baseball goes, I’m not so sure a World Series is in the lineup for either team.

Spencer Tuma serves as the director of national legislative affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau. She can be reached at spencer.tuma@mofb.org.

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