The farm bill is a generic name for a large piece of legislation which governs the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The farm bill covers a vast array of programs including feeding our nations hungry through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the school lunch program; reinforcing crop insurance; protecting natural resources through land and water conservation efforts; funding and authorizing vital trade, research and education programs among many other noble measures.
Over the past 50 years, farm bills have been reconfigured approximately every five years. The last farm bill was passed in 2008 and expired Sept. 30, 2012. As a new farm bill was not passed prior to the expiration, a nine-month extension was put together to continue funding of the various programs the farm bill promotes.
Farmers, ranchers and the public are crossing their fingers that the third time is the charm for a new farm bill. The first attempt was in 2011 with a bill submitted to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, but the super committee failed. In 2012, the Senate passed a farm bill, but the House failed to bring the bill to the floor following the bill’s passage through the House Ag Committee.
In 2013 however, things are looking brighter as both the House and Senate Ag Committees have passed a bill out of committee. The farm bill passed out of the Senate Agriculture Committee on May 14 on a 15-5 vote. The bill continued to gain support as the Senate voted (75-22) on June 6 to end debate and secured passage through the Senate on June 10 with a (66-27).
Almost 80 percent of the Senate’s $955 billion proposed farm bill will be used to pay for food stamps in the coming decade. The bill cuts $18 billion from overall farm bill spending over the next 10 years and $4 billion from food stamps.
The House was working on a rival $940 billion bill which cut $39.7 billion total, $20.5 billion coming from SNAP. The House Agriculture Committee debated its version and passed it on May 15 with a vote of 36-10. However, the House’s bill suffered an unexpected defeat Thursday, June 20.
At this time, most are not sure.
However, SNAP funding continues to be a major sticking point. Many Democrats felt the bill’s cuts to food stamps, the largest part of the bill, went too far and cheered the final tally: 195 in favor, 234 against. All but 24 Democrats voted against it along with 62 Republicans.
So, what happens now as SNAP funding and farm program funding lay in the wait?
House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas says a new version of the farm bill will be forthcoming within days, but finding the middle ground will be no easy task. Republicans are standing strong demanding more cuts, while Democrats want fewer. While moving the bill toward either side will cost some of the bill’s current support, it may be the only option.
And, while it may be possible to pass such a pared down version in the House, it would still have to be meshed with the Senate’s already waiting bill.
So in the mean time…farmers, ranchers and consumers wait and hope.
– Kassi Williams is a proud farmer’s daughter growing up on a cow/calf and grain farm in Iowa. She earned a Bachelor of Science from Iowa State University, majoring in both animal science and public relations. She has been involved with agriculture from birth, working in multiple facets of the industry including the USDA and Extension. Kassi relocated to Nebraska in 2010 to work for a marketing communications agency for a multitude of agriculture clients.