What’s on the Table as the Farm Bill Deadline Looms

A linocut illustration of the sun setting over a farmland scene

The end of the year means Congress will be turning to legislation that has not yet hit the table, the Farm Bill, which is overdue for reauthorization. The Farm Bill affects much more than its name implies: the legislation is at the heart of farmland stewardship and conservation practices, costs and insurance for commodities like corn and soybeans, food assistance programs, and more. In April we wrote about the history of the Farm Bill, and highlighted advocates’ calls for the next Farm Bill to better advance climate justice by increasing funding and research for climate-friendly farming practices and ensuring equitable access to Farm Bill programs and funds. Since Congress missed its deadline to reauthorize the Farm Bill by September 30th, advocates like the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition have been calling attention to the impacts of Congress’s continued delay on this legislation. Today we take another look at the status of the bill and the work of advocates in this space.

So where are we now? The Farm Bill requires reauthorization every five years. There are two deadlines for any Farm Bill and its programs: one follows the fiscal year, the other the crop year. Programs that receive discretionary funding from appropriations bills (where a specific amount is designated for a specific purpose) expire at the end of the fiscal year (September 30th) unless reauthorized or temporarily extended. This includes nutrition, conservation, and certain agriculture programs. Crop subsidies and other programs that support commodities expire December 31, which coincides with the crop year, unless reauthorized or extended.

As with most things, there are exceptions. For example, certain conservation programs are funded through 2031, thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act; to read more about these programs see Title II of the 2018 Farm Bill. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP), which get renewed by the fiscal year, are usually not affected by missed deadlines since many of the individual programs rely on appropriations bills for funding. And to highlight that point, the continuing resolution that averted the government shutdown in late September included funding provisions for nutrition programs under SNAP; the terms and agreements of the resolution keep SNAP programs funded through the end of 2023.

Between summer 2022 and summer 2023, Senate and House Agriculture Committees have been holding webinars, going on speaking tours, and receiving comments in order to prepare the 2023 Farm Bill. However, with recent turmoil in the House and the ousting of Speaker McCarthy, leaders of both committees have already missed the first deadline of September 30. If Congress cannot move forward on any meaningful piece of legislation before the end of the calendar year, they will have to vote to extend the current 2018 Farm Bill. If Congress fails to do that, programs that support agricultural research, organic farming certification, farm to food bank cooperatives, and other initiatives would stop.

Organizations and individuals have continued to advocate for stronger legislation, including provisions that would: improve SNAP benefits for fresh fruit and vegetables, phase out factory farming (a major source of water and air pollution), ensure conservation funding is directed toward more sustainable and climate-savvy practices, and support small- and mid-sized farmers. For example, the Union of Concerned Scientists has continued campaigning for passage of the Agriculture Resilience Act, which would boost funding for agricultural research and climate resilient farming practices. Farm Aid, a group that advocates for policies that support family farming, is asking Congress to keep conservation funding from the IRA in the next Farm Bill. Native American producers and Tribal governments represented by the Native Farm Bill Coalition have outlined their priorities for the Farm Bill—calling on Congress to bolster Tribal food economies, ensure fair access to financing opportunities, incorporate native stewardship practices in conservation, and ensure that Tribal Governments are named wherever states, cities, or municipalities are mentioned in the Farm Bill. For more information on the Native Farm Bill Coalition’s priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill, see this article from MVSKOKE Media.

The work of these advocates highlights the sweeping impact of the Farm Bill on communities, food systems, and the climate—including both the opportunity potential if these ideas are incorporated into the 2023 Farm Bill, and what’s at stake if Congress lets the remaining Farm Bill programs expire without an extension in December.