Farm Bill Proposals Put Forward with Some Congressional Action Scheduled

Congressional activity on the next Farm Bill is starting to come into public focus with the Chairs of both the Senate and House Agriculture Committees releasing overviews and some policy details of their farm bill starting points.  In the last week, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) released a detailed summary rural_prosperity_and_food_security_act_summary.pdf (senate.gov)) and section-by-section (rural_prosperity_and_food_security_section-by-section.pdf (senate.gov)) of a draft farm bill proposal representing the starting point for Democrats on the Committee.  In the House, Chairman G.T. Thompson (R-PA) released a summary (high_level_title_by_title_doc.pdf (house.gov)) of the starting point for Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee.

While neither has provided detailed legislative text yet, there are some key takeaways from each proposal and some significant distinctions between the two.  On funding, both bills look to increase overall funding for the farm bill, yet it seems the House bill would provide the greatest overall increase in funding, while Chairwoman Stabenow has indicated she has a commitment for an additional $5 billion in funding.  The sources of the new and/or redirected funding are varied and include tapping some savings by limiting some authorities of USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), at least in the House bill. Both proposals would bring the conservation program funding from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) into the Conservation Title of the bill to boost baseline budget levels for key conservation programs like EQIP and CSP, but the Senate proposal would maintain more specific climate-related requirements for the new funding.

For the farmer safety net programs, both bills look to enhance and strengthen crop insurance by expanding coverage levels and increasing some premium subsidies to help improve affordability.  Both proposals will increase the coverage level of the Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO) (from 86% to 88% in Senate and potentially 90% in House) and increase the premium subsidy from 65% to 80%.  There may be increases to the premium subsidy level for individual policies based on enterprise units.  For the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) support program, the Senate proposal looks to increase reference prices for seed cotton, rice and peanuts by 5% and update the effective reference price calculation for other commodities.  In the House bill, expectations are for variable percentage increases by commodity but in the range of 10-15%.

Both proposals would address the issue of base acres that determine which acres/crops are eligible for the ARC/PLC safety net program.  The Senate proposal limits the adding of base acres to underserved groups of producers, while the House bill is expected to include a broader base acre addition of program acres based on recent planting history, but an overall cap to help control the cost of bringing new base acres into the program.

There are also provisions in both proposals to modify payment limitation and program eligibility requirements, with the Senate proposal generally tightening the eligibility while the House bill is expected to increase the payment limit in order to reflect the inflationary impacts affecting all areas of production agriculture.

Looking ahead, Chairman Thompson has scheduled a House Agriculture Committee markup of his farm bill proposal for May 23.  At this time, it is unclear how many, if any, Committee Democrats will support the bill primarily due to some changes within the Nutrition Title and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to limit future increases in the market basket of food products that determine monthly benefit levels.  It is important to note the bill does not propose any new limitations or restrictions on SNAP eligibility or reductions in current benefit levels.  In the Senate, Ranking Member John Boozman (R-AR) plans to release the Senate Republicans farm bill framework shortly after the House Committee action.  These are all welcome steps necessary to try to move a farm bill forward this year, yet the road to completion remains lengthy with numerous challenges ahead, and limited time that Congress will be in session between now and the November election.