For nearly a century, the farm bill has been the single most important piece of federal legislation for farmers in Virginia, and across the county. The bill underpins farm program payments, food policy, conservation initiatives, rural development, foreign marketing and more. The bill authorizes hundreds of billions of dollars in mandatory and discretionary funding for programs whose impact and influence carries across all demographics and regions of the county.
However, despite its importance, it’s easy to forget just how much the farm bill covers and how it impacts farm operations and the agricultural economy for a period of five years. This article will provide a brief history of the farm bill, background on how policy becomes programs, as well as a description of programs encompassed in each title.
A Brief History of the Farm Bill
The first farm bill, the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, was a part of the New Deal. In response to the drop in US crop prices after the first World War and the effect of both the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl on farmers and agricultural markets, the Agricultural Adjustment Act created programs to reduce surplus and raise crop prices. Congress next passed the 1935 Soil Conservation Act and the 1936 Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act, two laws designed to address the ecological crisis of soil erosion. The Agricultural Act of 1933 was replaced five years later by the Agricultural Act of 1938. The 1938 Act continued the soil conservation acts and established the Soil Conservation Service to conduct surveys and develop preventative measures against soil erosion. Farmers were compensated for planting soil supporting crops such as soybeans and reducing production of crops that contributed to soil erosion.
A big change came in the 1970s. Beginning with the Agriculture and Consumer Protection Act of 1973, the farm bill has included re-authorization of funding for food assistance programs. The Food and Agriculture Act of 1977 included the Food Stamp Act of 1977, which permanently amended the Food Stamp Act of 1964 with changes to eligibility requirements. The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 renamed the Food Stamp program to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP.
To this day, the farm bill still holds this structure of combining agricultural, conservation, and nutrition policies and initiatives as an omnibus bill that goes beyond farm programs and involves a broader group of rural and urban stakeholders.
How Does the Farm Bill Become Law?
Farm bill passage and implementation is a complex, bipartisan process that often has a unique timeline with serious consequences if lawmakers fail to adhere to it. Its five-year lifespan provides lawmakers the opportunity to update the programs so they can respond to changing agronomic, market and economic conditions. The 2023 U.S. Farm Bill will be the 19th farm bill since the 1930s, however, if the farm bill were to expire without a new bill in place, all the programs would return to the 1949 bill, meaning reverting to support price programs for the limited number of commodities covered by the 73-year-old law – quite the motivator for Congress and farmers.
What is in the Farm Bill?
The 2018 U.S. Farm Bill is currently the law of the land, and it consists of twelve titles that cover commodities, risk, market development, credit, nutrition, conservation and more. Here is a breakdown of each title, what it contains and links to learn more if you are interested:
Title I: Commodities and Disaster
The commodity title has provided certainty and predictability to eligible producers by reauthorizing and improving commodity, marketing loan, sugar, dairy and disaster programs.
- Click Here for an AFBF Market Intel analysis on disaster programs in the farm bill.
- Click Here for an AFBF Market Intel analysis on dairy programs in the farm bill.
Title II: Conservation
The conservation title provides voluntary conservation programs that farmers and ranchers use to improve their productivity and address natural resource and, increasingly, environmental concerns. In the past Virginia has seen approximately 31.6k Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), 48.2k Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and 65.6k Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) acres implemented from farm bill funding.
Title III: Trade
Post-World War II and post-Korean War conditions in agriculture created a need to focus on trade and trade development programs.
- Click Here for an AFBF Market Intel analysis on agricultural trade and food assistance programs in the farm bill.
Title IV: Nutrition
First created with the Food Stamp Act of 1964, the nutrition title is a pillar in farm bill discussions, of particular interest to urban voters and their representatives. Virginia has over 809,000 individual and 379,000 family SNAP participants receiving an estimated 56,600,000 meals.
Title V: Credit
The credit title of the farm bill provides lending opportunities that private commercial entities cannot offer.
Title VI: Rural Development
The rural development title has held a spot in the farm bill since 1973 with the purpose to create and support new competitive advantages in rural areas.
Title VII: Research
When the United States Department of Agriculture was created in 1862 it was primarily charged to support agricultural research. Serving, technically, as the oldest title of the farm bill, stemming from the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862, the purpose was to establish and fund research in land grant institutions in each state. In 2021, as part of a nearly $25 million investment to support the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network, VDACS to help address farmer mental health and stress in the Commonwealth.
Title VIII: Forestry
First created in the 2002 farm bill, the forestry title provides authority for the United States Forest Service, which is the principal federal forest management agency.
Title IX: Energy
Renewable energy, primarily ethanol and biodiesel production, was spurred through the Renewable Fuel Standard, which is not included in the farm bill. However, it created interest in the development of farm bill programs regarding energy.
Title X: Horticulture
The horticulture title is designated to specifically support specialty crops and certified organic and local foods.
Title XI: Crop Insurance
The crop insurance title provides new and continued insurance products for producers to purchase in a public-private partnership. The insurance helps protect producers against losses resulting from price and yield risks on over 445 million acres, in addition to a growing assortment of policies for animal agriculture. Virginia currently has approximately 642.3k Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and 503.4k Price Loss Coverage Acres enrolled.
Title XII: Miscellaneous
The miscellaneous title holds a variety of programs. In most cases, these programs either do not have a “home title” or are individual programs to address specific problems. In the 2018 farm bill, the miscellaneous title primarily focused on livestock programs, agriculture and food defense, historically underserved producers, limited-resource producers and other miscellaneous provisions.
While the farm bill is not perfect, and it requires constant revision, it has brought nearly a century of added stability to the agriculture industry and given farmers the tools they need to provide a safe, sustainable and abundant supply of food, feed, fuel and fiber to support the American and global economy and population. Congressional hearings on the farm bill and American Farm Bureau’s farm bill working group, have been underway throughout 2022. U.S. Hearings on the 2023 U.S. Farm Bill have already started in Congress.
The AFBF farm bill working group, which includes Virginia staff, continues to assess the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill to determine what is working, what is not working and how the legislative package could be improved to address the economic and market conditions on the horizon. Farm Bureau supports the following principles to guide development of programs in the next farm bill:
- Protecting current farm bill program spending
- Maintaining a unified farm bill which keeps nutrition programs and farm programs together
- Any changes to current farm legislation must be an amendment to the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 or the Agricultural Act of 1949
- Prioritizing risk management tools and funding for both federal crop insurance and commodity programs
- Ensuring adequate USDA staffing capacity and technical assistance
- Click Here for a complete, title-by-title overview of Farm Bureau’s priorities in the 2023 U.S. Farm Bill.
In the coming months, Farm Bureau will call on you to stress the importance of farm policy to your state and federal lawmakers, as well as the public. Many people are unaware of the benefits of the farm bill, and few are better positioned than farmers to provide a firsthand account. Click Here to sign up for Virginia Farm Bureau’s action alerts and stay in the loop on timely farm bill updates.