United States farm bill
In the United States, the farm bill is the primary agricultural and food policy tool of the federal government. The comprehensive omnibus bill is passed every 5 years or so by the United States Congress and deals with both agriculture and all other affairs under the purview of the United States Department of Agriculture.
It usually makes amendments and suspensions to provisions of permanent law, reauthorizes, amends, or repeals provisions of preceding temporary agricultural acts, and puts forth new policy provisions for a limited time into the future. Beginning in 1933, farm bills have included titles on commodity programs, trade, rural development, farm credit, conservation, agricultural research, food and nutrition programs, marketing, etc.
Farm bills can be highly controversial and can impact international trade, environmental conservation, food safety, and the well-being of rural communities. The agricultural subsidy programs mandated by the farm bills are the subject of intense debate both within the U.S. and internationally.
In the 113th United States Congress both chambers took up separate proposed farm bills. The House version failed to pass on June 20, 2013. The Senate's proposed farm bill, the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 (S. 954; 113th Congress) (S. 954), passed the Senate on June 10, 2013. A new farm bill would replace the current farm bill, known as the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, which is set to expire in September 2013. On January 29, 2014, after a conference between the House and the Senate over the differences between their two farm bills, the House passed the Agriculture Act of 2014 (H.R. 2642; 113th Congress), a farm bill expected to be the final compromise.
History of farm bills
The farm bill was first created during the Great Depression to give financial assistance to farmers who were struggling due to an excess crop supply creating low prices, and also to control and ensure an adequate food supply. The first farm bill, known as the Agriculture Adjustment Act (AAA), was passed by Congress in 1933 as a part of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. The bill allowed farmers to receive payment for not growing food on a percentage of their land as allocated by the United States Secretary of Agriculture. It also enabled the government to buy excess grain from farmers, which could then be sold later if bad weather or other circumstances negatively affected output. The AAA also included a nutrition program, the precursor to food stamps.
In 1938, Congress created a more permanent farm bill (the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938) with a built-in requirement to update it every five years. In 1996, the first major structural change was made to the farm bill when Congress decided farm incomes should be managed by the free market and stopped subsidizing farmland and purchasing extra grain. Instead, the government began requiring farmers to enroll in a crop insurance program in order to receive farm payments. This led to years of the highest farm subsidies in American history.
Direct payments also began in the late 1990s as a way to support struggling farmers, regardless of crop output. These payments allowed grain farmers to receive a government check every year based on yields and acreage of the farm as recorded the previous decade.
In 2008, the farm bill was passed as the Food, Conservation and Energy Act. The bill included approximately $100 billion in annual spending for Department of Agriculture programs, around 80 percent of which was allocated for food stamps and other nutritional programs.
President George W. Bush had vetoed the 2008 bill due to its size and cost. However, the veto was overridden by Congress. The 2008 bill was also publicly controversial due to its high cost and the uneven distribution of subsidy money among farmers. The bill was 47 percent more expensive than the 2003 bill, and, over the previous ten years, 10 percent of farmers had received 75 percent of subsidy dollars. Some of these farm owners were then-members of Congress and other public figures, including former president Jimmy Carter, who received thousands of dollars in direct payments. In 2007, it was found that about 62 percent of farmers do not receive subsidies from the farm bill.
In 2012, while writing the new farm bill, known as the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act, Congress proposed many ways to cut down the overall cost of the bill, including stricter eligibility standards for food stamps and moving away from direct payments to farmers. However, food stamps and nutrition remained the largest portion of the bill's cost, amounting to a proposed $768.2 billion over ten years. The 2012 bill ultimately failed to pass in the House, which caused Congress to extend the 2008 bill until September 30, 2013.
Between the passage of the 2008 farm bill and the creation of the 2013 bill, the food stamp program changed its name to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and nearly doubled in size. The proposed 2013 bill would cut funding to SNAP by about $400 million a year, which amounts to half a percent of spending from previous years. It would also reduce the government's responsibility to pay crop insurance premiums for farmers with adjusted gross incomes of more than $750,000. The new bill also proposed a new insurance program for dairy producers which would cut costs by eliminating other dairy subsidies and price supports.
Amendment to reduce crop insurance subsidies for wealthiest farmers May 2013
The Senate voted 59–33 for an amendment introduced by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). The amendment will reduce crop insurance subsidies by 15 percent for the top 1 percent of U.S. wealthiest farmers, those with a gross annual income of more than $750,000.
Non-farm bill agriculture legislation
- Federal Farm Loan Act of 1916
- Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933
- Frazier–Lemke Farm Bankruptcy Act of 1934
- Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act of 1937
- Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938
- Agricultural Act of 1948
- Agricultural Act of 1949
- Agricultural Act of 1954
- Agricultural Act of 1956
- Farm Credit Act of 1971
- Food and Agricultural Act of 1965
- Agricultural Act of 1970
- Agricultural and Consumer Protection Act of 1973
- Food and Agriculture Act of 1977
- Agriculture and Food Act of 1981
- Food Security Act of 1985
- Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990
- Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996
- Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002
- Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008
The latest 2008 Farm bill, known as the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, increased spending to $288Bn therefore causing controversy at the time by increasing the budget deficit. It increased subsidies for biofuels which the World Bank has named as one of three most important contributors, along with high fuel prices and price speculation, to the 2007–2008 world food price crisis. On January 1, 2013, Congress passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 to avert the fiscal cliff and the next day President Barack Obama signed the Act into law. (Public Law No: 112-240) The "fiscal cliff" deal was primarily enacted to avoid automatic tax hikes and spending cuts, but also included provisions extending portions of the 2008 Farm Bill known as Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 for nine months through September 30, 2013. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has demonstrated a commitment to working on a new five-year Farm Bill by reintroducing last session's Senate Farm Bill in the new 113th Congress.
Proposed farm bills
- Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 (H.R. 1947; 113th Congress) (H.R. 1947) – failed passage in the House
- Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 (S. 954; 113th Congress) (S. 954) – passed the Senate, failed in the House
- CRS Report for Congress: Agriculture: A Glossary of Terms, Programs, and Laws, 2005 Edition – Order Code 97-905,
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- Cox, Ramsey (23 May 2013). "Senate votes 59–33 to reduce subsidies for the wealthiest farmers". Washington, DC: The Hill. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
- "At the trough: An awful farm bill faces opposition". Chicago: The Economist. 1 June 2013.
- Global Economic Prospects: Commodities at the Crossroads, ISBN 978-0-8213-7799-4, World Bank Report 2009 page 52
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- Sumner, Daniel A. (2008). "Agricultural Subsidy Programs". In David R. Henderson (ed.). Concise Encyclopedia of Economics (2nd ed.). Indianapolis: Library of Economics and Liberty. ISBN 978-0865976658. OCLC 237794267.
- U.S. Farm Bill 2007 Ag Observatory (Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy)
- Farm Policy Facts
- American Farmland Trust
- USDA Bets the Farm on Animal ID Program
- Farm Bill Budget Visualizer from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future