By Christine Souza
With the federal farm bill set to expire in 2023, the California Farm Bureau and others are providing input to members of Congress about programs and provisions that farmers and ranchers would like to see in the next round of farm legislation that affects the nation’s farms, consumers and the environment.
“We’re at the point where groups are readying themselves in anticipation for a farm bill reauthorization next year,” said Erin Huston, California Farm Bureau federal policy consultant.
California Farm Bureau staff served on the American Farm Bureau Federation working group to develop a series of farm bill priorities, she said.
Roughly every five years, the farm bill expires and is updated after the legislation is debated, amended and passed by Congress, and then signed into law by the president. The 2018 Farm Bill, known as the Agriculture Improvement Act, was enacted into law in December of 2018.
As part of the farm bill working group, Huston said, the California Farm Bureau joined representatives of state Farm Bureaus and the American Farm Bureau Federation to develop a set of organization priorities, which were approved last week.
Overarching organization priorities include maintaining farm bill program funding, keeping farm and nutrition programs together, prioritizing risk-management tools such as crop insurance and commodity programs, and ensuring adequate U.S. Department of Agriculture staffing and resources for technical assistance.
Farm Bureau representatives approved more than 60 recommendations over multiple titles of the farm bill. These include price increases for commodities, greater transparency for milk checks, streamlining nutrition programs and funding for conservation programs, and rural development.
AFBF President Zippy Duvall said the farm bill is “the most significant piece of legislation that affects farmers and ranchers across the country.
“Since enactment of the 2018 Farm Bill, farmers have faced significant challenges from market volatility, increased input costs and devastating natural disasters,” he said.
Despite these challenges, Duvall said, farmers and ranchers have met the needs of consumers in the U.S. and abroad, while continuing to improve the environment.
“AFBF looks forward to working with Congress to ensure the appropriate resources are available to craft farm policy that reduces food insecurity, bolsters national security and encourages long-term stability for all of our farm and ranch families,” he said.
Priorities for California, Huston said, include ensuring that crop insurance covers more agricultural commodities in the state and making sure conservation programs “are well funded and diverse and flexible enough to meet the needs of different types of farms that grow different types of crops.”
Another focus, she said, is ensuring that provisions in the bill on agricultural research are robust and fit the needs of California farmers.
While California has aligned with AFBF on farm bill priorities, Huston said, “There are certain commodities that other states don’t produce or issues that they don’t face. For example, we’re going to care more about wildfires than Rhode Island, but so far, we’ve been pretty aligned.”
Shannon Douglass, first vice president of the California Farm Bureau and cattle rancher in Glenn County who also grows sunflowers, pumpkins, corn and forage crops, represented Farm Bureau last month during a farm bill listening session by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
“California Farm Bureau has been involved in a number of discussions to identify our priorities within the next farm bill ranging from risk management and conservation to animal disease preparedness and trade promotion programs,” Douglass said.
With impacts of different disasters intensifying in California, Douglass recommended that disaster and crop insurance programs continue to be included in the next farm bill as an essential part of keeping farmers whole.
“With such a diverse set of commodities and practices in California, we must remain focused on improving and expanding these programs,” Douglass said, adding that of about 400 commodities grown in the state, as of May 2022, only 80 specialty crops are covered through crop insurance programs.
“We must find solutions to overcome limitations inherent in the current system and provide RMA (Risk Management Agency) with the necessary tools and structure they need to help close this gap,” Douglass said.
California Farm Bureau supports adequate funding levels for programs such as the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program, Livestock Indemnity Program, Livestock Forage Disaster Program, Tree Assistance Program, Dairy Margin Coverage Program and others.
Additional focus is on supporting plant-health protections to strengthen, prevent, detect and mitigate invasive pests and diseases, animal health programs, trade and market development programs, and conservation programs.
What happens with the 2023 Farm Bill is uncertain, Huston said, with the Nov. 8 general election approaching and congressional and Senate races still to be decided.
Members of Congress who sit on the Senate and House agriculture committees are responsible for drafting the farm bill.
“There are some races that are to be determined,” Huston said, “so we don’t know what committee makeup looks like yet.”
(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)