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The Farm Bill is a Big Deal if You Produce, or Eat, Food — But It May Face a Tough Time in Congress
Missouri Ag Connection - 05/24/2023

Every five years, Congress has to renew the farm bill — a gigantic piece of legislation that supports and protects food production, natural resources and provides food benefits to low-income families. Lawmakers are in the process of shaping one of the biggest legislative packages moving through Congress this year: the 2023 Farm Bill.

Few Americans are farmers, yet the bill still has a big impact on the rest of us.

“Anybody who eats or wears clothes that are generated from natural fibers, is actually touched by the farm bill,” said Amy Hagerman, an assistant professor at Oklahoma State University and a state extension specialist for agriculture and food policy.

Congress renews the farm bill about every five years to set the stage for our food and farming systems — including what crops farmers plant.

The bill controls how billions of taxpayer dollars are used to set up crop insurance, fund crop subsidies and agricultural research to assist food production, as well as invest in sustainable agricultural practices. It also maintains food assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which supports nearly 42 million Americans.

The farm bill consists of about a dozen sections called titles, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates the 2023 Farm Bill will cost about $709 billion over the next five years — the most expensive on record. Much of that money is spent on four major titles: nutrition, crop insurance, commodities and conservation.

With the $31 trillion debt ceiling crisis looming over lawmakers, agriculture policy experts say the cost of programs will drive farm bill 2023 policy discussions.

“There will be intense conversations around those different priorities,” Hagerman said.

A divided Congress, with Republicans having a slim majority in the House and Democrats in the Senate, sets the stage for tough negotiations as the Sep. 30 deadline approaches, and the 2018 Farm Bill expires.

What is the Nutrition Title?

The Nutrition Title is the biggest piece of the farm bill pie. It’s estimated to account for 85% of farm bill spending — up nearly 10% from the 2018 Farm Bill — to support low-income food assistance programs like SNAP.

“When you get 40-some million people in a program, it's going to spend a lot of money, and so that's just the reality of it,” said Jonathan Coppess, associate professor and director of the Gardner Agriculture Policy Program at the University of Illinois.

As lawmakers look at ways to scale back federal spending, Coppess said some are looking to trim from SNAP.

“If budget is driving our whole discussion, then we're looking around for big numbers to cut,” he said. “And this is a big number, so it gets the first focus on cutting.”

Coppess said the fight to slash SNAP isn’t new when it comes to farm bill negotiations. House Republicans introduced a bill earlier this year that would establish stricter eligibility requirements, including making more SNAP participants subject to work requirements. SNAP already has work requirements and limits food assistance to three months of every three years for able-bodied adults ages 18 to 49 without dependents.

“The work requirements discussion that we hear about is rooted in this kind of mindset … that somehow these [SNAP] policies are motivating people not to work,” he said.

While Republican lawmakers, such as Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D) argue "work is the best pathway out of poverty,” Democratic lawmakers are opposed to making cuts to SNAP benefits, saying it would hurt families that most need assistance.

Meanwhile, the current U.S. unemployment rate is at 3.4%, the lowest it’s been since 1969.


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