The Future of Crop Protection
What to expect in the 2023 Farm Bill
As we approach the end of 2022, the 2023 Farm Bill has already been in the works for months on Capitol Hill. This legislation is one of the most important conversations in food and agricultural policy. Debates over topics covered within the bill are often heated, and the current political, economical and industrial volatility of the nation add to the pressure of this conversation.
The current farm bill, named the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, is set to expire on September 30, 2023. The current bill is focused on:
Commodity Support covering commodity policy; marketing loans; sugar; supplemental agricultural disaster assistance; noninsured crop assistance and administration.
Conservation covering wetland conservation; Conservation Reserve Program; Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program; other conservation programs; funding and administration; Agricultural Conservation Easement Program; Regional Conservation Partnership Program and repeals and technical amendments.
Trade & International Food Aid covering the Food for Peace Act; Agricultural Trade Act of 1978 and other agricultural trade laws.
Nutrition Assistance covering the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; commodity distribution programs and miscellaneous additional programs.
Farm Credit covering farm ownership loans; operating loans; administrative provisions and miscellaneous additional considerations.
Rural Development covering improving health outcomes in rural America; connecting rural Americans to high speed broadband; miscellaneous subtopics; additional amendments to the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act and the Rural Electrification Act of 1936; program repeals and technical corrections.
Research & Extension Activities covering the National Agricultural Research, Extension and Teaching Policy Act of 1977; Food, Agriculture, Conservation and Trade Act of 1990; Agricultural Research, Extension and Education Reform Act of 1998; Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008; amendments to other laws and other matters.
Forestry covering the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act of 1978; Global Climate Change Prevention Act of 1990; Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003; repeal or reauthorization of miscellaneous forestry programs; forest management and other matters.
Energy covering biofuel and rural energy programs.
Horticulture covering organic production; specialty crops and additional considerations.
Crop Insurance covering specialty and cover crops; underserved producers and additional financial matters.
Miscellaneous covering livestock; agriculture and food defense; historically underserved producers; the Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994 Amendments and other miscellaneous provisions.
The new bill must be approved before the expiration of the current farm bill, or all of the programs involved will return to the status of the 1949 bill, leaving growers with outdated legislation and support.
All eyes on insurance
Looking ahead to the 2023 Farm Bill, crop insurance is a major concern for growers. Policymakers are considering whether to expand the scope of crop insurance programs or restrict them, adding more eligibility requirements and limiting access to insurance for growers.
Proposals have been shared that connect crop insurance rates and premium discounts to conservation and climate-focused agricultural practices. Many ag insurance experts are not in favor of these potential changes. The limitations these would enact would likely result in decreased participation in crop insurance, which will drive rates higher. This is igniting fear and opposition in insurance experts, growers and even some lawmakers.
Legislators are also considering making ad-hoc disaster programs implemented by the USDA over the past four years permanent. Many agricultural groups are resisting this because they feel the programs need many changes before becoming permanent.
In the July 20 House Ag Subcommittee hearing, legislators heard from Kathy Fowler, who testified on behalf of the Crop Insurance Professionals Association.
“Don’t try to mix policy objectives like climate into crop insurance,” Fowler says. “Crop insurance is meant to protect the farmers’ profitability. When profitable, good conservation will follow.”
As concerns about climate continue to increase, so have the number of actions on Capitol Hill working against it. This is a key focus of the current administration, as shown in recent legislation. Ag Committee members and stakeholders are worried the farm bill will be more focused on furthering the climate agenda than helping farmers.
“We don’t need to cherry-pick certain practices that might only work in specific regions of the country and use crop insurance to try to force all farmers into adopting the practice,” Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., Ag Committee ranking member, says. “We don’t need to use crop insurance as a carrot, or worse, as a stick.”
Industry members generally prefer incentives over mandates when it comes to implementing certain practices on farms and ranches. Most aren’t opposed to incentives that support farmers utilizing climate-smart practices.
But, they are opposed to legislation that will likely result in lower crop insurance participation. Better participation means better benefits for growers and insurance representatives.
Meanwhile, legislators may use conservation and climate initiatives to make sure they have approval from both sides. Incorporating these policies may negatively impact growers’ support of the new bill, but they may be necessary to garner bipartisan support.
The money behind the matter
While crop insurance is heavy on growers’ minds, nutrition is expected to dominate the upcoming bill, especially when it comes to funding. A vast majority of farm bill funding and budget is dedicated to nutrition, raising concerns from multiple angles.
With so little money left over for the other focus areas, questions are circling about how far that money can go. There are also common questions of how much nutritional policy belongs in legislation aimed at helping farmers.
“If you take the 2023 Farm Bill and extend it for 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the total cost would be $1.3 trillion. Of that $1.3 trillion, $1 trillion is in nutrition,” Randy Russell, president of the Russell Group, says in a recent interview with AgriTalk. “I think that’s going to set up a debate about the role of nutrition versus farm programs, among other aspects of the farm bill.”
Considering all of the factors, the goal of growers and ag insurance experts is surviving, not thriving. While there are plenty of wishes when it comes to crop insurance, aiming for maintaining current policies is more realistic than shooting for drastically improved policies.
The bill will continue to be shaped over the next year, and more insights will be available as progress continues in the coming months.