The biggest piece of legislation that affects farmers is the federal farm bill, written every five years. The bill covers crop and livestock agriculture, conservation, research, woodlands, and food and nutrition assistance. Here is a look at the top five things farmers want in the 2018 farm bill.
1. Crop insurance and crop protection. With the vulnerability that farmers continue to face, and the amount of money it takes to grow a crop, protection programs will continue to be key. This includes crop insurance, which is currently subsidized by the federal government at 62 percent, and commodity protection programs like the Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs. Farmers will need to defend all three options and the 62 percent subsidy, if they want those programs to survive.
2. CRP expansion. Conservation groups, as well as some farm groups, have called for an expansion of the historically low Conservation Reserve Program, which the last farm bill capped at 24 million acres. The current discussion is to expand acreage to 30-36 million acres, which would likely increase commodity prices, but also hurt agribusiness sales, because farmers would need to buy fewer inputs to plant fewer acres.
3. Dairy protection. Most dairy farmers have argued that the Dairy Margin Protection Program in the 2014 farm bill was ineffective and insufficient. They say that a new protection policy needs to be written, but one that appeals to small farms as well as larger dairies. The challenge is providing a protection program that works for everyone, given the wide differences in production costs that dairy farmers face, based on the size and scale of their operation, and management skills.
4. Food and nutrition assistance. The majority of modern farm bill money actually goes to food and nutrition assistance, with about 80 percent of the 2014 farm bill going to programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps). While Republicans often call for a reduction in SNAP spending, the spending has actually trended downward on its own in recent years, as the economy improves and more people return to work.
The “wish” for farmers would be to keep as much of farm bill funding in farm programs as possible, without wrecking the food-farm relationship that has defined the farm bill for decades.
5. Water quality and conservation funding. Farmers know water quality and conservation will continue to be big issues the next few years, with more pressure on them to help improve the nation’s water bodies. With this in mind, project funding and support will be critical, as well as funding for research that leads to better farming practices.