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Farm Bureau seeks ‘unified’ farm bill of agriculture and nutrition aid

The largest U.S. farm group believes “it makes perfect sense” to combine commodity supports and SNAP in the same piece of big-ticket legislation, said president Zippy Duvall in announcing the American Farm Bureau Federation’s farm bill priorities on Thursday. The AFBF called for higher subsidy rates, at a still-to-be-determined cost, and more emphasis on stewardship on working lands rather than long-term idling of cropland.

Congress was expected to begin work in earnest on the farm bill early next year. The 2018 farm policy law expires in the fall. Action on the 2014 and 2018 farm bills was delayed by attempts by conservative Republicans to slash SNAP spending and expand the program’s work requirements. Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow said earlier this week that food stamp fights were likely during drafting of the 2023 farm bill.

First on the AFBF’s list of priorities was “protect farm bill program spending,” followed by “maintain a unified farm bill that keeps nutrition programs and farm programs together.” Also on the list were a robust federally subsidized crop insurance system and “adequate” staffing and funding of the USDA’s technical assistance programs for farmers and ranchers.

“It makes perfect sense that one single bill supports the people who produce the food and the people who need assistance accessing nutritious food for their families,” said Duvall during a news conference. “This unified approach has the benefit of bringing farm advocates together with anti-hunger advocates, and it’s the right approach to take.” The AFBF suggested three minor changes to public nutrition programs, including one to allow food banks to buy fruits, vegetables, and other specialty crops directly from farmers.

In the past decade, some conservative think tanks have argued for cutting the farm bill into two, so there would be separate votes on the traditional farm programs and on public nutrition. Proponents say it would be easier to revamp SNAP that way; other analysts say the approach could put farm programs in peril. Only a small fraction of Americans live on the land.

SNAP accounts for three-fourths or more of farm bill spending. The Congressional Budget Office estimated in the spring that SNAP would cost $1.1 trillion and mandatory agriculture programs $168 billion for the decade of fiscal 2023-32. The farm bill also covers export programs, food aid, agricultural research, rural economic development, and land stewardship programs.

In four pages of details that fleshed out its priorities, the AFBF called for higher reference prices, an element in calculating crop payments, and higher commodity loan rates. More milk should be eligible for the Dairy Margin Coverage subsidy program, it said. The group had no estimate of the cost of the proposals and did not suggest what the new rates should be. That would be determined by lawmakers and the amount of funding available, said an AFBF lobbyist.

“We believe that because of the higher cost of production, it justifies the increase in the reference prices for Title I commodities to ensure farmers remain economically viable,” said Duvall.

The enrollment cap for the Conservation Reserve should be lowered from its current 25.5 million acres, and landowners should be encouraged to return prime cropland now in the reserve to production, he said.

“We believe that the right way to do it is through working land projects,” he said. Land set-asides limit the land available for new and beginning farmers and constrict crop production in a hungry world, said Duvall.

There was limited mention of climate change in the AFBF material. Duvall said the group has been active in other settings, such as the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance, which encouraged the USDA to set up climate-smart demonstration projects. Those projects are due to begin work in coming months.

The climate, health, and tax law enacted in August allotted $20 billion for USDA conservation programs, with a priority on climate mitigation.

The four-page AFBF list of farm bill priorities is available here.

The AFBF announcement of its priorities is available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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