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Farm Babe – Mythbusting the Farm Bill: What is it and What Does it Do?

The Farm Bill is a package of legislation passed roughly every five years that greatly impacts agriculture and nutrition programs. The bill outlines mandatory and discretionary funding for many programs that are important to the everyday lives of people across the country and governs a wide variety of food and agriculture programs.

Farm bills were first created in the 1930s to help struggling farmers. Originally, the first program supported some commodities like corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, rice, peanuts, dairy, and sugar. Over the years, farm bills have expanded to include nutrition, horticulture, bioenergy, expansion of conservation, research, rural development, and more. The farm bill has helped the industry to grow and evolve over time. It’s an extremely important bill because it allows legislators to simultaneously address many agriculture and food issues.


The current Farm Bill was enacted on December 20, 2018. It was originally supposed to expire on September 30, 2023, but on November 16, 2023, President Biden signed H.R. 6363, the Further Continuing Appropriations and Other Extensions Act, 2024, which extended the 2018 Farm Bill. This extension allows authorized programs to continue through Sept. 30, 2024.

Some farm bill programs expire, so they need to be renewed. There have been 18 farm bills since they first started in the 1930s. If the farm bill expires without a new bill or an extension, all programs will return to the 1949 farm bill, which covers support price programs for a limited number of commodities. This gives farmers, ranchers, and legislators a big push to pass farm bills promptly. It is also important that the farm bill has a set expiration time, as it allows for the opportunity to update and change programs as market and economic conditions change.

What does the farm bill do?

Let’s dive into what the current farm bill does and what farm bill funding is used for. The 2018 Farm Bill has 12 titles covering various agriculture and nutrition topics.

Title I, Commodity Programs: This title provides support for major commodity crops, including wheat, corn, soybeans, peanuts, rice, dairy, and sugar. It also provides disaster assistance to farmers.

Title II, Conservation: This title provides voluntary conservation programs in which farmers and ranchers can participate. These programs encourage environmental stewardship, improve land management, and help address natural resource and environmental concerns.

Title III, Trade: The title supports agricultural export programs and international trade development.

Title IV, Nutrition: The nutrition title provides nutrition assistance for low-income households. One of the best-known programs the Farm Bill supports is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The nutrition title also makes the farm bill important to everyone, not just farmers and ranchers.

Title V, Credit: This title offers government loans and guarantees to farmers and ranchers to purchase land and run operations.

Title VI, Rural Development: This title supports rural development by offering grants, loans, and guarantees for housing, community facilities, businesses, and utility programs in rural areas.

Title VII, Research, Extension, and Related Matters: This title is technically the oldest title of the farm bill, stemming from the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862. This act created the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and charged it with primarily supporting agricultural research. Today, this title still plays an important role in supporting ag research and extension programs nationwide.

Title VII, Forestry: The forestry title supports forestry management programs run by the USDA’s forest service. It was first added to the farm bill in 2002.

Title IX, Energy: This title supports the development of renewable energy systems on farms and in communities. It also uses grants and loan guarantees to support ethanol and biofuel production.

Title X, Horticulture: The horticulture title supports the production of specialty crops, USDA-certified organic foods, and locally produced foods. Another interesting this this title does is provide a framework for industrial hemp production.

Title XI, Crop Insurance: This title provides new and continued insurance products for producers to purchase in a public-private partnership through the permanently authorized Federal Crop Insurance Program. These programs help protect producers against losses resulting from price and yield risks on over 445 million acres.

Title XII, Miscellaneous: The miscellaneous title supports many programs. Some of the most notable include programs for livestock and poultry, support for beginning farmers and ranchers, support for historically underserved producers, and more. Many of the programs under the miscellaneous title are individual programs that address specific problems.


How is the farm bill budget spent?

Let’s take a quick look at the farm bill budget and where farm bill dollars are spent. It was estimated that the 2018 farm bill would cost about $428 billion over the five years of the bill (2018-2023). In 2023 (before the 2018 farm bill was extended to 2024), it was estimated that a 2023 farm bill would cost $725 billion over the next five years (2023-2028). Over time, the proportions of the farm bill budget have shifted.

In the 2023 projection of the farm bill budget, over 83% of the budget goes toward the nutrition title. This amount has increased since the farm bill was enacted in 2018, mostly to reflect pandemic assistance and administrative adjustments made in SNAP benefit calculations. The second largest title budget-wise is crop insurance, which accounts for almost 7% of the budget. Next up is commodity programs, which is almost 5%. After that is conservation, which is about 4%. The other titles account for less than 1% of farm bill spending. Many programs in these titles received discretionary funding, meaning they are not funded through the farm bill but instead receive discretionary appropriations through separate legislation.


Why is the farm bill important, and where are we now?

The 2018 farm bill is still in effect, but a new bill is needed to keep programs current. A lot has changed in the last five years, so we must pass a bill that reflects these changes.

The Farm Bill is a great example of groups coming together to accomplish a common goal. It is a bipartisan bill that brings a wide variety of stakeholders to the discussion. Right now, many groups are lobbying to pass a new farm bill as soon as possible. One example is the American Farm Bureau, which is encouraging individuals to reach out to their elected officials to tell them of the importance of the farm bill.

The farm bill ensures a safe food supply, helps feed the hungry, assists with rural development, supports farmers and ranchers, addresses environmental concerns, and so much more. On the farm side, the farm bill offers commodity programs, loans, crop insurance, and other tools that can help farms achieve longevity. Nutrition programs in the farm bill help low-income families eat. Rural communities also benefit from farm bill programs. The farm bill also changes and adapts over time to meet the needs of the time. The farm bill supports many extremely important programs that affect a significant amount of the U.S. population, not just farmers and ranchers.





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