By TIM ALEXANDER
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — A variety of legislative factors will influence the 2023 Farm Bill as preliminary discussions begin in early 2022. However, the results of the 2022 midterm elections will hold the most influence over shaping the next farm bill, which is the primary driver of federal farm policy.
This is according to James Glueck, vice president of Michael Torrey and Associates, who discussed 2023 Farm Bill legislative influences during a December 14 meeting and webinar hosted by the Illinois Soybean Growers (ISG). In addition to the 2022 midterm elections, Glueck listed new agriculture committee leadership, climate change, trade challenges, racial justice in agriculture, COVID-19 and cost expenditures among the top legislative factors that will influence the 2023 Farm Bill.
“At this time, I think we can identify a couple of key themes looking at the playing field,” said Glueck, whose Washington, D.C.-based government relations firm specializes in agricultural issues. “I think the first factor is the people: the new ag committee leadership and the new ag committee membership, and the new members of Congress. A necessary piece of the puzzle is making sure members know what issues they’re going to have to wrangle with.”
Under the Biden administration and the current balance of power in Congress, a couple of “givens” stand out heading into the new year, Glueck noted. “A lot of focus on things like climate, through the reconciliation process particularly, (and) the equity issues have been big themes for the secretary,” he said. “You’ve seen the administration weigh in on those issues already, and they are likely to be farm bill signals as well.”
The next farm bill negotiation process will also be heavily influenced by discussion on disaster relief payments for farmers under the crop insurance title, according to Glueck. “It will focus on disasters whether extreme storms or drought, and whether current farm bill language addresses the needs of farmers suffering losses due to severe weather disasters,” he said.
In addition, trade issues that have resulted in ad hoc government payments to farmers since the crafting of the 2018 Farm Bill are likely to play a prominent role in the development of the next farm bill. “When you look across the trade front, you continue to see tariffs and challenges with customers around the world. Some of these challenges are several years old at this point, but are likely to influence the farm bill conversation,” Glueck said.
“And you’ve also got the pandemic. Almost two years from the start, the lessons learned about the supply chain and changes in demand, and how that rippled through the farm economy, will (be factors). And are there flexibilities — or maybe less flexibility, in some instances — in some of these programs that would provide the administration the tools to respond in the future?”
The farm bill negotiation process likely will begin in early 2022, when House and Senate agriculture committees announce field hearings with stakeholders in order to receive suggestions on priorities. Around the middle of 2022, a series of more high-level hearings and discussions will likely be scheduled in the nation’s capital. After receiving stakeholder input, the separate committees will begin drafting the content of the 12-title farm bill, which includes commodities, conservation, trade, rural development, research and energy titles, along with nutrition, credit, forestry, horticulture, crop insurance, and a “livestock-miscellaneous commodities” title.
After mark-up and negotiations over language and content, the writing of the final draft of the farm bill could take a year or more to craft. Debate over the farm bill’s massive budget (The Congressional Budget Office projected the 2018 Farm Bill budget at around $90 billion) is usually the most divisive and determining factor in its writing, Glueck commented.
“We’ve seen some great expenditures in the past several years: trade payments, COVID payments, climate-related payments. How that plays into Congressional spending and the farm bill discussion will be a factor,” he said.
Relatively tight majorities in the House and Senate will influence how the 2023 Farm Bill advances through its processes, Glueck added, along with the influence of new leaders, ranking members and membership in their respective ag committees.
Protecting and preserving crop insurance could be the biggest concern for the membership of the ISG and Illinois Soybean Association (ISA), according to Tara Smith, Executive Vice President of Michael Torrey Associates. “Typically, where we see challenges to crop insurance is when we see folks go after premium assistance to farmers, so that crop insurance discount that you receive on your bill becomes a target on your back,” Smith said. “Cuts to private sector delivery systems is another common theme. It could be cuts to the agencies in the private sector delivery program, (or) it could be cuts to the actual crop insurers and what they get for delivering the program.”
Following the webinar, Mike Levin, Senior Director of Government Affairs for ISA, said there are currently more questions than answers available at this early stage of 2023 Farm Bill consideration. “That’s why it’s important that we actively engage in conversation with our farmers and do a lot of listening. We want to know what our farmers want from this Farm Bill, what they’re concerned about, where we should focus our efforts, and where gaps exist,” Levin said, in a news release following the meeting and online listening session.
“These imperative discussions are adding up and preparing us for what’s ahead. We will continue to collect farmer feedback, solicit expert legislative advice, and collaborate with other commodity groups who are also working for the best interests of Illinois agriculture.”