What is the Farm Bill?
The Farm Bill is the federal government’s main tool to support and regulate the agricultural industry. Renewed approximately every five years, this large piece of legislation (which can be upwards of 1,000 pages long) puts forward law that affects every aspect of food policy, like the trade of food products with other countries, regulating crop prices and insurance, funding agricultural research to improve farming methods and crop resilience against weather and pests, food and nutrition programs, and more.
Congress passed the first farm bills in the Great Depression to give financial support to struggling American farmers, but evolved to resemble more of the modern version of the Farm Bill as we know it in 1933 in order to address the major ecological and agricultural disaster that was the Dust Bowl. Since then, the Farm Bill has remained a key piece of conservation legislation in America – it is the single largest source of federal funding for conservation on the more than 70 percent of America that is private land.
This bill makes it possible for farmers, ranchers, and foresters to help restore and maintain the quality of our nation’s soil, water, and wildlife habitat. Stabilizing eroded stream banks, improving irrigation techniques and drought resilience, restoring and enhancing water quality in farm-adjacent streams and rivers, and reducing the amount of nutrient pollution that ends up in our waterways are just some of the conservation benefits that come out of Farm Bill efforts and directly impact our nation’s fisheries. All this work boosts hunting and fishing opportunities and access that helps to drive outdoor recreation spending.
Why is this important right now?
Congress must pass a new Farm Bill this year because the current five-year Farm Bill expires in September 2018. However, the Farm Bill came to the House floor for a vote recently and failed.
The Farm Bill is not only important because of its impacts on farms, but because it can impact international trade policy, food safety requirements, the well-being of rural farm-centered communities, as well as investment in and the breadth of environmental conservation efforts. A 1,000-page bill that provides billions of dollars in funding to important programs across the country creates urgency for its passage into law, but also has many moving parts and creates an opportunity for legislators to renegotiate their policy priorities.
In the case of this year’s Farm Bill, House lawmakers disagree on details of requirements and benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; also known as ‘food stamps’). This isn’t an unusual party-line disagreement – many GOP members of the House, as well as the Trump Administration, wish to see SNAP reform, while Democrats do not. However, when the Farm Bill was brought to the U.S. House floor for a vote on May 18, 2018, the $867 billion bill failed because, along with all House Democrats voting against the bill because they want to preserve the current SNAP, some GOP lawmakers also voted against the bill because they want to see more in-depth SNAP reform, but also because they want to reform immigration law before passing another Farm Bill. This has created some uncertainty to the timing of passing this legislation this year before the previous Farm Bill expires. Another vote in the House has been scheduled for June 22, 2018; that vote remaining scheduled for that day most likely dependent on the successful passage of an immigration bill whose vote is now scheduled for earlier in that week.
What is ASA doing to support conservation programs in the Farm Bill?
ASA is part of a large coalition of sportsmen’s groups who support and advocate for conservation programs funded or incentivized by the Farm Bill. Here is a great video made by Trout Unlimited of how conservation efforts by ranchers and farmers can not only improve stream ecology and recreational fishing opportunities, but do so alongside their business operations without negatively impacting their bottom line. And here are some maps from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) of different conservation programs in the Farm Bill.
For more information, please contact Policy Fellow, Ashley Brinkman.