(Photo: Iowa Soybean Association / Joclyn Bushman)
Navigating the path to farm bill passage
November 1, 2023 | Michael Dolch
In the heartland of America, where the fertile fields stretch as far as the eye can see, federal support for Iowa farmers hangs in the balance as the 2023 Farm Bill takes center stage in the political arena. This landmark legislation is crucial for the prosperity of our state’s agriculture industry, with potential implications for everything from crop insurance to conservation practices, and market access to checkoff programs.
Farm bill passage and implementation have a unique timeline with serious consequences should lawmakers fail to act. Its five-year lifespan provides policymakers with an opportunity to update key programs, ensuring relevancy to current market and economic conditions. If the farm bill expires without a new bill in place or if the legislation is not granted a congressional extension by Dec. 31, all programs would return to the 1949 bill, reverting to support price programs for the limited number of commodities — excluding soybeans — covered by the 73-year-old law. This helps drive the urgency that farmers and members of Congress feel about passing a new bill or extending the current legislation.
Let’s dig into the complex journey of the 2023 Farm Bill, exploring the current political dynamics, contentious issues and the potential impact on Iowa’s soybean farmers.
Current political dynamics
As Iowa soybean farmers know all too well, the passage of a farm bill is never a straightforward process. The political landscape in 2023 is marked by a delicate balance of power in Congress. With a closely divided U.S. House and Senate, bipartisan cooperation is more critical than ever to move any legislation forward. The farm bill, traditionally a bipartisan endeavor, will require yet-to-be-seen collaboration across party lines.
Key players in this legislative tango include Senator John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who hold influential positions on the Senate Agriculture Committee. In the House, a similar waltz is taking place between Chairman GT Thompson (R-Pa.), and Ranking Member David Scott (D-Ga.). The ability of these lawmakers — the four corners of farm policy — to find common ground on critical issues such as crop insurance, agricultural research funding and nutrition programs will significantly impact the bill’s fate.
While the farm bill has historically enjoyed broad support, several contentious issues threaten to derail its progress this fall. One of the most significant debates revolves around funding. The Congressional Budget Office has scored the next farm bill at roughly $1.51 trillion over ten years — more than 81% of which funds the nutrition title. With additional funding unlikely, committee leaders and staff are looking at “efficiencies” in the existing farm bill, which will require a tightrope between party priorities and supporting farmer livelihoods.
Another contentious issue is the allocation of funding for nutrition programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The ongoing debate over program eligibility and funding levels has the potential to polarize lawmakers and stall the bill’s passage. Any major cuts or policy changes would ultimately kill the bill. Lawmakers must recognize the interconnectedness of these consumer-facing programs with the agricultural sector, as they provide an essential market for soy and soy-based products.
Priorities for Iowa soybean farmers
For Iowa’s soybean farmers, the 2023 Farm Bill holds several areas of interest. The bill’s provisions for crop insurance are of paramount importance, given the unpredictability of weather patterns and market fluctuations. Strong support for risk management programs, including higher reference prices, is essential to provide farmers with a safety net in challenging times.
Research funding is critical to developing innovative farming techniques and practices that can increase yield while minimizing environmental impact. ISA is advocating for robust funding for agricultural research and development to ensure the industry remains at the forefront of innovation.
The farm bill also presents opportunities to elevate the Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) program, trade promotion programs that lead to increased demand for Iowa soybeans. These programs are indispensable for expanding our market reach and promoting Iowa soybeans globally.
Additionally, ISA Advocates are aggressively opposing harmful anti-checkoff program amendments. Checkoff programs play a vital role in funding promotion, research and education efforts that return $12.34 in added value for every dollar invested by farmers in the soy checkoff. Protecting these programs ensures continued support and long-term competitiveness for Iowa’s soybean farmers.
The journey to pass the 2023 Farm Bill is fraught with challenges, but one that Iowa’s soybean farmers cannot afford to ignore. The bill will shape the future of agriculture in our state, influencing everything from crop insurance to conservation efforts. To ensure your voices are heard, I encourage you to engage your elected officials, advocate for your interests, and help ISA work toward meaningful, bipartisan solutions that will benefit generations to come. As the legislative process unfolds, the fate of the 2023 Farm Bill may remain uncertain, but one thing is clear: the future of Iowa agriculture depends on it.