March 20, 2023

Hurdles ahead: Ag chair hopes for on-time farm bill

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Despite the rocky start by the 118th Congress, a majority staffer is optimistic about the prospects of a new farm bill.

“I do feel good about where things are at in terms of where House leadership is and Chairman Glenn Thompson’s priorities for the farm bill and how he is focused on moving the bill forward and getting the bill reauthorized on time,” said Trevor White, U.S. House Agriculture Committee professional staff member, on the Republican from Pennsylvania.

White gave his Capitol Hill perspective via Zoom on the development of a new farm bill during the Illinois Agricultural Legislative Roundtable Jan. 24 hosted by Illinois Farm Bureau. The current farm bill expires at the end of the year.

There may be a notion that it will be difficult to get a bill done with Republicans having just a narrow majority in the House.

“Certainly, it will create additional challenges, but it will force us to the middle. It will force us to be bipartisan. We know that at the end of the day a unified conference support will have to have to pass both chambers of Congress and that will have to have support from both Republicans and Democrats,” White said. “It’s just a matter of how we get from point A to point B that’s up in question right now.”

Early Work

White has worked on two prior farm bills and said for the first time any ag committee members can remember, the House Republican leadership has been lined up behind getting a bill done.

“This last week we were in Speaker (Kevin) McCarthy’s office talking about strategy in this upcoming year. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise is very supportive as is House Majority Whip Tom Emmer and Rep. Elise Stefanik, House Republican Conference chair,” White noted, citing the Republicans from California, Louisiana, Minnesota and New York, respectively.

“All of them have lined up and have been talking to Chairman Thompson and in his ear about what they want to see in a farm bill and how they can help move this process forward and get a bill done.”


Funding for a new farm bill will no doubt be sticking point new farm bill development. White estimates a new bill will cost in the vicinity of $1.5 trillion.

“We’re waiting on the updated Congressional Budget Office baseline to come out in mid-February and so we’ll have more exact numbers, but you’re looking at a $1.4 to $1.5 trillion total bill, and $1.2 trillion of that is all in Title 4 nutrition programs,” he said.

“Plus, you’ve had in intervening years since the 2018 farm bill the Inflation Reduction Act that was just passed by the last Congress added $19 billion to the conservation baseline.

“So, through all of that Title 4 nutrition spending and Title 2 conservation spending have all received increases. But if you look at where commodity policy funding is for the upcoming farm bill, it’s going to be down in excess of 20% compared to where it was at in 2018, and crop insurance has been relative flat.

“So, we know there’s one part of the bill, a pretty critical part of the bill for many of you that has largely been ignored by various legislation or administrative changes. We’re going to be trying to find additional resources to be able to shore up Title 1.

“In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need to spend money in Title 1 because the way it’s set up it only kicks in when prices fall, but unfortunately it wasn’t designed to deal with high costs and that’s what we’re seeing a lot of farmers dealing with now.

“If you look at where the reference prices are set in statute compared to where the market is today, you’ve got a long way to fall before that support starts kicking in, but we’re very concerned about what would happen in those first couple years of a downturn when you’re input costs still remain high, but market prices start to deteriorate.”

There will be a lot of discussion behind the scenes about where funding for the bill comes from and how legislation that makes investments in Title 1 and crop insurance can move through a House that’s going to be much more concerned about spending than it has in the past.

Ad Hoc Programs

Between 2018 and 2021, nearly 80% of payments that were made to producers came from outside of the farm bill through the Market Facilitation Program, the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program-Plus and other programs.

“All of those different programs have been important and helped address critical needs, but we think it’s a better public policy goal to have that built into the budget and to make investments in crop insurance where you’re not relying on ad hoc assistance or making investments in Title 1 to where when trade disruptions occur that assistance can kick-in,” White said.

“It can be something that farmers can talk to their lenders about to where when they fill out that operating note at the end of the year, they know exactly what the federal support picture is going to look like for their operation and not have to wait several years after a disaster hits to see if Congress and if USDA is going to step in and help.”

Catching Up

The farm bill hearing process is a little behind schedule, primarily due to COVID disruptions which limited the usual implementation and oversight procedures by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“So, once we officially get organized, expect to see a very busy and aggressive hearing schedule, as well as some events out in the field whether it’s listening sessions or formal field hearings,” White noted.

“All of that is to solicit more input from stakeholders, but it’s also important to educate our members along the way. Those hearings and listening sessions provide opportunities for members of the committee to hear from producers who are being impacted by these policies on the ground every day, and there are a lot of new faces on the agriculture committee.

“There are a lot of new faces in Congress in general. About half of the entire House has never voted on a farm bill before. On the Republican side of the aisle, we have 13 new members on the House ag committee that we have to get schooled up and educated into what is the farm bill and why is it important and why does it matter to your constituents.”

Historical Challenge

Farm bill developments have historically been a struggle. The 1996 bill failed before it made out of committee first. The 2002 bill was opened up early and added $70 billion to the baseline to shore up farm programs.

The 2008 farm bill had to be extended once and was vetoed twice by the president before it was signed into law. The 2012 bill became the 2013 bill, which became the 2014 bill.

In 2018, it was the first time since 1990 that a bill had been introduced in both chambers and enacted in the same calendar year. White hopes the legislation is completed on time as in 2018.

“So, expect us to a lot of work in the first and second quarter this year doing that oversight, getting feedback from groups to help us inform kind of what the policy should look like,” he said.

“Hopefully over the course of the summer we’ll start pulling together the text of the bill and perhaps something that’s ready to go by late summer or in September so we can get a farm bill reauthorized on time.

“That’s obviously aspirational. There’s a lot of different X factors that can come into play. There are a lot of different challenges that we might face.

“Every single farm bill is very different. There’s no formula for getting a bill from committee and then into an act.”

Thompson’s top priority is having a bill that invests in policies farmers and ranchers need to be successful.

“I hope throughout all of this that you all know that you can have confidence in the team that Chairman Thompson has put together that you see how much he cares about rural America and production agriculture and how much of a priority he places on getting this farm bill done,” White said.

“But not just getting it done for the sake of having farm bill under his belt. He wants to get a farm bill done that at the end of the day producers can look at and say this is better than that previous five-year version.”

Tom Doran

Tom Doran

Field Editor