Rural Wisconsin Needs a Farm Bill

The following is a commentary by Wisconsin Farm Bureau Director of National Affairs Tyler Wenzlaff. Edited by Mid-West Farm Report.

Since 2018, the farm economy has undergone significant transformations. Market volatility, trade tensions and unpredictable weather patterns have posed challenges to farmers nationwide. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted supply chains and market access, further straining the agricultural sector. Technological advancements and shifts toward sustainable practices have also altered the landscape of farming.

In light of these changes, the need for a comprehensive farm bill has never been more critical.

A robust farm bill is essential to support the resilience and sustainability of the farm economy. It provides vital safety nets for farmers, including crop insurance and disaster assistance.

The bill also addresses issues of market stability and trade. It offers programs that help farmers navigate global trade dynamics and access new markets. Furthermore, it invests in rural development and infrastructure, ensuring that farming communities have the resources they need to thrive.

Moreover, the farm bill promotes research and innovation in agriculture, fostering advancements in technology and sustainable farming practices. This is essential for maintaining productivity and addressing environmental challenges. It also includes nutrition assistance programs, which are vital for ensuring food security for millions of Americans.

Last week, the House Agriculture Committee took a significant first step by approving the House version of the farm bill. This bill, totaling $1.5 trillion, passed the committee with a vote of 33-21 after more than 13 hours of debate.

Although its passage was anticipated, the key question was the level of Democratic support it would garner. Ultimately, four Democrats—Don Davis of North Carolina, Yadira Caraveo of Colorado, Eric Sorensen of Illinois, and Sanford Bishop of Georgia—voted in favor of the bill.

Democratic criticism primarily focused on a provision requiring any future updates to the USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) to be cost-neutral. The TFP, a model used to revise SNAP benefits, would save $27 billion in future benefit costs under this restriction. Some of these savings would be redirected to double trade promotion programs and bolster programs for specialty crops.

Additionally, Democrats opposed the removal of climate guardrails from the Inflation Reduction Act’s conservation funding. This would be incorporated into the farm bill, and a provision suspending USDA’s Section 5 spending authority under the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC).

Committee Chairman Thompson aims to use the CCC provision to offset the cost of increased commodity program payments and crop insurance subsidies. However, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the CCC restriction will save only $8 billion over 10 years, significantly less than the costs associated with the proposed changes to commodity programs and crop insurance titles.

While the bill’s future remains uncertain, it addresses many key priorities for Wisconsin Farm Bureau, including:

  • Increases to reference prices.
  • Raising the Tier 1 Dairy Margin Coverage from 5 million pounds to 6 million.
  • Voluntary base acreage updates.
  • Mandatory cost surveys for dairy processors.
  • Reverting the dairy pricing formula to the “higher of” method.
  • Increasing the Dairy Business Innovation Initiatives funding from $20 million to $36 million, thanks to an amendment by Congressman Derrick Van Orden.

Although this marks a positive first step, securing a few Democratic votes in committee is far from achieving a bipartisan bill that can pass both the House and the Senate by September 30, when the one-year extension expires.

The evolving farm economy demands a comprehensive farm bill to provide stability, promote sustainability and ensure the long-term prosperity of the agricultural sector. By addressing these critical areas, the farm bill supports not only farmers but also the broader economy and the well-being of all Americans.