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 renewed every 5 years or so and deals with both agriculture and all other affairs under the purview of the United States Department of Agriculture. Congress is involved in overseeing the implementation of farm bills as well as being responsible for developing and enacting the legislation.
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. Having such a wide variety of topics in one omnibus bill has been brought into question, especially putting together the agricultural and nutrition parts. However, doing so helps to bridge some of the politically relevant cultural differences that exist between legislators of urban and rural, coastal and heartland areas of the country . Traditionally, the agriculture programs have been more important for rural areas of the heartland, while urban and coastal regions have been more concerned with the nutrition assistance programs. There are stakeholders outside of the government that are also interested in food and agriculture issues. These include national farm groups, commodity associations, state organizations, nutrition and public health officials, advocacy groups representing conservation, recreation, rural development, faith-based interests, local food systems, and organic production. Putting nutrition and agriculture topics together allows for stakeholders and advocacy coalitions with different interests to find common ground on topics that are potentially contentious between them .
Some of the programs that are authorized in a farm bill fall into the spending category of mandatory, while others are discretionary. Programs with mandatory funding have their funds authorized directly within the farm bill. On the other hand, programs with discretionary funding require for congressional appropriators to designate funding to them because they are not funded directly in the farm bill. Cost projections for funding estimates are calculated by the Congressional Budget Office using a baseline, which is an estimate of future costs over 10 years if the existing costs were to continue unchanged. Adjustments to funding levels between programs generally occurs from one year to the next, incrementally.
On May 18th, 2018 the $867 billion 2018 United States farm bill failed in the House of Representatives with a vote of 198 yea to 213 nay. All Democrats and 30 Republicans voted against the measure. Republican opposition came largely from the Freedom Caucus who insisted that a separate vote to restrict immigration be held before they would support the bill. Democratic opposition was largely due to the proposed changes to the attached Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that would impose work requirements.  After the 2014 farm bill expired in September of 2018, the 2018 Farm Bill was signed into law December 20, 2018.
History of farm bills before 2000
Farm bills were 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. On May 12th, 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) of 1933 into law as part of his New Deal. The AAA had two main objectives: 1) To help farmers who were severely in debt, and 2) To raise the prices of farm goods. 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.
The AAA of 1933 was an abrupt change in policy and was designed as an emergency response to the low prices of commodity crops during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl in the years prior to 1933. The AAA established a primary federal role in limiting the production of certain agricultural crops including wheat, corn, and cotton to reduce supply in order to increase prices.
The years before the passage of the AAA was a time of great difficulty for American farmers; at the end of World War I US farmers supplied the European markets until they rebuilt their agricultural sectors. Once the Europeans restored their farmland sufficiently to meet their agricultural needs, US farmers lost an important export market. The diminished market for American farm commodities led to a surplus of crops, which depressed prices. The Great Depression further stressed the already struggling agricultural sector, and many farmers were at risk of foreclosure. In this time of agricultural crisis, farmers continued to produce as much as possible in the hopes that selling high quantities would make up for low prices, exacerbating the cyclical problem of surplus and low prices. At the same time, the urban areas faced high unemployment, so the entire nation was struggling economically.
President Roosevelt's New Deal legislation focusing on agriculture paid farmers to reduce the number of productive acres on their farms, ultimately limiting the supply of commodity crops on the market. The goal was to increase the price of farm commodities by reducing overall supply, while also providing relief to farmers who were deeply in debt. This was, however, a voluntary program, meaning farmers were not required to remove acres from production if they were not interested in government assistance. Those who participated tended to remove land from production that was already producing poorly, thereby reducing their yield as little as possible, and ultimately limiting the effectiveness of the Act. The AAA was short-lived as the Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional on January 6th, 1936. This was partially due to the processing tax that was used to finance payments to farmers and partially because the Court ruled government regulation of agricultural production within the states unconstitutional.
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 determined by free market forces 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.
History of farm bills since 2000
The first farm bill of the new millennium was the Farm Security Act of 2002, which was signed into law on May 13, 2002. Some of the bill’s major changes in comparison to the 1996 bill include an alteration of the farm payment program and the introduction of counter-cyclical farm income support. It also mandates the expansion of conservation land retirement programs and places an emphasis on environmental practices on the farm. Importantly, it restores the eligibility of legal immigrants to food stamps. Additionally, the 2002 farm bill relaxes the rules of the previous farm bill so that more borrowers may be eligible for Federal farm credit assistance, includes several commodities in the list of those that require labeling from their country of origin, and includes new provisions on the welfare of animals.
In 2008, the farm bill was passed as the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008. 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.
The 2008 Farm bill 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.
President George 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. This was enacted as part of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, passed by Congress on January 1, 2013 and signed into law the next day by President Barack Obama. (Public Law No: 112-240)
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. Under an amendment introduced by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), it would also 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. The new bill also proposed a new insurance program for dairy producers which would cut costs by eliminating other dairy subsidies and price supports.
The 2014 Farm bill, known as the Agricultural Act of 2014, was passed by Congress and signed into law on February 7, 2014, 2 years late, as authority under its predecessor, the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 had expired September 30, 2012.
The 2018 Farm bill, or Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, was passed by Congress and signed into law on December 20, 2018. It primarily reauthorized many programs in the 2014 Farm Bill.
Non-farm bill agriculture legislation
- Federal Farm Loan Act of 1916
- Frazier–Lemke Farm Bankruptcy Act of 1934
- Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act of 1937
- Farm Credit Act of 1971
- Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933
- Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938
- Agricultural Act of 1948
- Agricultural Act of 1949
- Agricultural Act of 1954
- Agricultural Act of 1956
- Food and Agriculture Act of 1965
- Agricultural Act of 1970
- Agriculture 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
- Agricultural Act of 2014
- Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018
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
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