While standing in front of a tractor at Michigan State University (the first land-grant university) on Friday, February 7, 2014, President Obama signed the long awaited $956 billion farm bill into law. The 2014 Farm Bill, what some have called a “jobs bill,” an “innovation bill,” a “research bill” and a “conservation bill,” passed in the House on January 29, 2014 with a vote of 251 to 166. The new five-year farm bill later advanced toward final passage on Tuesday, February 4, 2014 after a strong bipartisan Senate vote. According to FarmPolicy.com, “Lawmakers passed the sprawling legislation this week after four years of bitter arguments over farming subsidies and Republican efforts to reduce financing for food stamps. The final 950-page bill replaces direct crop payments with an insurance program and trims $8 billion from food stamps over the next decade.”
The farm bill is a massive piece of omnibus legislation that tends to make headlines every five to seven years when it is renewed by Congress. The first farm bill, the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, was originally developed under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal as an emergency measure for farmers during the Great Depression to address plummeting commodity crop prices. During that time, the law essentially paid farmers to not grow food on a certain percentage of their land in order to prevent overproduction and balance supply and demand. In addition, the federal government bought and stored large quantities of grain in order to stabilize crop prices. The early law also included a nutrition program — the precursor for the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP) — to feed the hungry.
Since then, agriculture in the U.S. as well as government policies concerning agriculture have changed dramatically. Yet despite these changes, the government continues to play a major role in managing risks within the agricultural industry. The modern day farm bill now addresses a wide variety of issues including nationwide hunger, rural broadband service, soil erosion, lack of credit and unfair export practices. For instance, the 2008 Farm Bill contained 15 distinct titles, including Commodities, Conservation, Trade, Nutrition, Rural Development, and Energy, among others.
The recently passed 2014 Farm Bill titled the Agricultural Act of 2014 will reform agriculture programs, and is expected to reduce federal spending by $23 billion over the next decade and help farmers and business owners grow the agriculture economy. The bill includes major reforms like eliminating the direct payment subsidy program that originated with the 1995 Farm Bill, streamlining and consolidating other programs, and cracking down on fraud and misuse.
According to a summary provided by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank D. Lucas, the following is a list of reforms and changes in the final negotiated farm bill that is expected to impact U.S. farmers, ranchers, and consumers:
Reforms to Farm Policy
- Repeals Direct Payments and limits producers to risk management tools that offer protection when they suffer significant losses.
- Limits on payments are reduced, eligibility rules are tightened, and means tests are streamlined to make farm programs more accountable.
- Strengthens crop insurance, a successful public/private partnership that ensures farmers invest in their own risk management.
- Provides historic reforms to dairy policy by repealing outdated and ineffective dairy programs. Offers producers a new, voluntary, margin protection program without imposing government-mandated supply controls.
- Reauthorizes and strengthens livestock disaster assistance.
- Supports small businesses and beginning farmers and ranchers with training and access to capital.
Reforms to Food Stamps
- Closes the “heat-and-eat” loophole that artificially increases benefit levels when states provide nominal LIHEAP assistance.
- Establishes a 10-state pilot to empower states to engage able-bodied adults in mandatory work programs.
- Prohibits USDA from engaging in SNAP recruitment activities, and advertising SNAP on TV, radio, billboards & through foreign governments.
- Ensures illegal immigrants, lottery winners, traditional college students, and the deceased do not receive benefits.
- Ensures SNAP recipients are not receiving benefits in multiple states.
- Prevents abuses such as water dumping to exchange bottles for cash.
- Demands outcomes from existing employment and training programs.
- Prohibits states from manipulating SNAP benefit levels by eliminating medical marijuana as an allowable medical expense.
- Allows states to pursue retailer fraud through a pilot investigation program and crack down on trafficking through data mining, terminal ID, and other measures.
- Increases assistance for food banks.
- Consolidates 23 duplicative and overlapping conservation programs into 13.
- Provides one year of full funding for the Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, which provides funding for vital services in communities containing federal lands.
- Provides certainty to forest products industry by clarifying that forest roads should not be treated as a point source under the Clean Water Act.
- Creates a permanent subcommittee within the EPA Science Advisory Board to conduct peer review of EPA actions that would negatively impact agriculture.
- Eliminates duplicative reporting requirements for seed importers; requires improved economic analysis of FDA regulations.
- Fully funds specialty crop industry priorities such as Specialty Crop Block Grants.
The 2014 Farm Bill provides for the reform and continuation of agricultural and other programs through fiscal year 2018.
Although it has been a long and arduous process to pass this latest iteration of the farm bill, the implementation process is just now getting underway. Now that a farm bill has been signed, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is charged with the task of analyzing and interpreting the provisions of the bill and writing the rules that determine how the farm bill will be effectuated.
When speaking with state agriculture department leaders at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) Winter Policy Conference, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack explained that implementing the farm bill would be no small task. Vilsack noted, “There’s an enormous number of new programs…and regulations that have to be modified.” The USDA has established working groups that will be assigned to a title of the farm bill to identify program and policy changes.