What to know about the 2024 farm bill

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If the Farm Bill, which passed out of a congressional committee late last month, were signed into law in its current form, farmers would likely see few substantive changes in how they do business, at least at first.

Advocacy groups are disappointed that the bill will largely maintain the status quo.

“Farmers deserve a forward-thinking farm bill that shapes a more resilient food system and promotes fairness, equitability and accessibility for all producers,” Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association Executive Director Khara Strum said in a statement. Her organization cannot support the bill in its current form, she said.

The bill had bipartisan support, but a cadre of Democrats are opposed to the law that passed out of committee due to cuts to nutrition assistance programs, making changes likely before final passage.

While the 2018 Farm Bill expired last year, lawmakers have approved an extension through the end of 2024.

A Farm Bill markup, which was approved by the House of Representatives Agriculture Committee on May 24, includes some provisions which could encourage the use of biofuels, and strengthen some safety net programs.

The bill also removes some climate guide rails on conservation programs and makes cuts to the supplemental nutrition assistance program.

But the substance of the bill is largely unchanged from the last Farm Bill, which was signed into law in 2018.

The American Farm Bureau Federation urged quick passage of the bill.

“We urge the Senate Agriculture Committee to follow the lead of the House by scheduling a farm bill markup,” American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said in a statement. “A pandemic, high inflation, supply chain issues and global unrest all present challenges that can only be addressed by a new, modernized farm bill.”

But some other agriculture advocacy groups said they were disappointed that the bill didn’t do more to address climate change.

A specific change farmers might notice eventually is an increase in compensation programs for growers who lose crops.

The markup passed on May 24 boosts farm subsidies and crop insurance premium subsidies by $50 to $53 billion over the next 10 years, according to a summary by law firm Holland & Knight.

The federal government spends around $30 billion annually on these entitlement programs, according to a 2023 assessment from the Cato Institute.

The bill also increases the reference prices — which determine the payouts for farmers who make claims through their crop insurance companies — for some crops. The reference price for wheat, cotton and rice increased 16%, 14% and 25%, respectively, under markup, according to Holland and Knight.

The cap on coverage for dairy insurance — known as the Daily Margin Coverage Program — is increased to 6 million pounds from 5 million under the bill that passed out of committee last month, Holland and Knight said.

In a statement, the OEFFA argued that the increase in reference prices would only help large farms that grow commodity crops, and would do little to help specialty farms.

The current version of the bill would also remove so-called climate-smart policy requirements — which require agencies to take climate change into account — on $13 billion worth of agricultural conservation programs.

“By removing climate sideboards, the House draft would move funds away from time-honored and cost-effective ecological practices,” the OEFFA said in a news release. “It would also make it harder for farmers using these practices to access already oversubscribed programs.”

The markup includes language requiring the USDA to create a strategy for the development of sustainable aviation fuels, a move that could boost crops like corn and soybeans, which are used in biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel.

The bill is likely to undergo substantial changes before its final passage. While a handful of Democrats supported it, most were opposed.

“I offered an amendment that would undo the $30 billion in cuts to the Thrifty Food Plan, which determines benefit amounts for individuals and families on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.” Connecticut Congresswoman Jahana Hayes said in a news release. “This would be the largest cut to SNAP in over three decades.”

Rep. Hayes said she couldn’t support the bill after the amendment was omitted from the markup.

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