Three Things for Brands to Know About the Next Farm Bill
For almost 100 years, the farm bill has been the primary funding and governing authority for many areas of agriculture policy, including farm income support, food assistance, trade, conservation and research. Renewed on a five-year schedule, the bill holds significant statutory power, providing the legal framework for programs executed primarily by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Because the Constitution and common law do not grant the executive branch the power to carry out these programs, none of them would exist absent congressional action. This is a fancy way of saying there are major ramifications and consequences to agriculture if Congress fails to negotiate and pass a farm bill before the current one expires.
Radical reform is unlikely in most farm bills; however, the bill remains the single most important piece of legislation for U.S. agriculture, and it continues to help U.S. farmers and ranchers provide safe and affordable food, fiber, feed and even fuel for consumers all around the world.
Everyone has predictions about what the next farm bill will look like. My prediction? This could be the most transformative farm bill in modern history if Congress has the patience and will to work across the aisle. With that in mind, keep an eye out for these three things.
Climate change mitigation and climate-smart initiatives will play their biggest role to date. Considering the Biden administration’s charge to advance climate legislation, expect debates over expanded funding for conservation programs and additional support for farmers implementing climate-smart practices that have yet to be defined. Of course, any increase in funding comes at a price. Congress, specifically the House of Representatives, has discretion to increase appropriations of mandatory spending in the bill, but cannot lower it. It’s safe to say that the size of the next farm bill will largely be determined by the November elections.
It will be important to watch how Congress defines climate-smart initiatives and what supporting farmers actually looks like in statute. The question remains: Will early adopters of climate-smart initiatives be supported in the same way as new farmers just now getting on the bandwagon?
Flexible Crop Insurance
Expect changes to federal crop insurance, specifically discussions about more flexibility. Today’s crop insurance programs are very rigid and slow to change, but as we’ve learned, market conditions can change on a dime. As we expect U.S. farmers to do more using fewer resources, Congress should consider expanding opportunities to protect investments based on the current and rapidly changing conditions of today’s market.
Urban Ag Initiatives
The 2018 farm bill established the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovation Production to serve urban agriculture. Congress also directed the agency to award grants and establish two different pilot projects. While there is no statutory or regulatory definition for “urban agriculture,” expect Congress to build upon the 2018 programs.
The farm bill affects every farmer and rancher at some level. It’s important to know how to navigate the discussions and sometimes uncertain political waters. For companies and organizations in agriculture, this means understanding how customers will be affected and how to support and serve them.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me to learn more about how OBP can help you understand the policy changes coming through the farm bill, and how to strategically reach your target audiences with the right message.
Richard Fordyce is a fourth-generation corn, soybean and beef cattle farmer from Missouri. He previously served as the administrator for USDA’s Farm Service Agency. In that role, he provided leadership for FSA and its mission to support agricultural production nationwide. Fordyce leads the business development team at OBP.