Commentary: John R. Block Reports from Washington

January 26, 2022

“Farm Bill”

Hello, everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association.  They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.  Thank you.

This is Randy Russell sitting in for my good friend, Jack Block. And now today’s commentary-

Next year, Congress will begin writing a new farm bill. I have had the honor and privilege to be involved with every farm bill going back to 1981 – when Jack first began as Secretary of Agriculture. The 2023 farm bill will be my 9th. I have learned from these experiences that there are three factors that drive the outcome of farm bills — the state of the farm economy, politics, and the budget.

As Congress begins farm bill hearings early in 2022, the farm economy stands in good shape. USDA projects net cash income to be its highest since 2014, farm exports are at record levels, we have strong cash prices, and farm balance sheets are in relatively good shape. As far as politics, the 2022 midterm elections could bring significant changes. Based on re-districting, historical trends, and Joe Biden’s low approval ratings, Republicans are very likely to gain control of the House and possibly the Senate. If this happens, GT Thompson of Pennsylvania, a strong advocate for production agriculture, will then become Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. In the Senate, either Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, a highly skilled and effective legislator with strong ties to agriculture, or John Boozman of Arkansas, a true friend and advocate for production agriculture, would be Chairman. Regardless, bipartisanship is required in the Senate to ensure the farm bill has at least 60 votes and will overcome any filibuster.

And finally, the budget, which plays a crucial role in farm bill debates. With our total federal debt reaching over $30 trillion and with annual federal budget deficits of $2 trillion, there simply won’t be any new money available to spend on program increases or new initiatives. This means any increases proposed for farm programs, crop insurance, trade, conservation, research, or nutrition must be offset by cuts in other areas of the farm bill. No new money will greatly complicate the writing of a new farm bill. Speaking of nutrition, we call the reauthorization of our nation’s farm, crop insurance, conservation, and research programs “farm bills.” But let’s face it – this is a misnomer. Over 75% of the nearly $1 trillion ten-year cost of the farm bill is nutrition – largely SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program. Yet, let’s be clear: the rural/urban coalition is essential to passing farm bills. Why? Well, with only 35 House Members from districts that are primarily rural, building effective partnerships with the nutrition community is pivotal to ensuring urban and suburban House Members support our very important farm related programs. Make no mistake – this coalition – the rural/urban partnership – is what passes farm bills. This is Randy Russell reporting from Washington.

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The views expressed in this editorial are those of the writer and not necessarily those of nor the Southern Farm Network.