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2024 Farm Bill News

May 29, 2024 | Advocacy & Policy | 0 comments

by Paul Weinstein 

There has been recent progress on the 2024 Farm Bill.  On May 24, The House Agriculture Committee voted 33-21 to approve their version of the Farm Bill called the Farm, Food and National Security Act of 2024 (FFNSA), HR 8467.  The Senate Agriculture Committee has not yet introduced a complete bill, but on May 1 the Chairwoman, Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), released a detailed summary of her farm bill proposal called the Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act of 2024 (RPFSA).

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has done a detailed analysis of both bills.  Although there isn’t room in this article to delve into the details of this analysis, NSAC said, “The Senate’s RPFSA protects conservation and climate funding included in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), strengthens access to the farm safety net, invests in local and regional food systems, fully protects nutrition assistance, and takes meaningful steps toward a more racially just food and farm system,” and  “The House’s FFNSA fundamentally fails to meet the moment. The bill dramatically increases subsidies yet takes no meaningful steps toward building a fair, responsible, and accessible farm safety net. It stubbornly dismisses climate change – in part by decoupling the climate-focus from conservation investments – while countless farmers and ranchers nationwide experience the worsening impacts of a changing climate.”

To review, the Inflation Reduction Act authorized $20 billion for fiscal years 2023-2026 towards supporting climate-smart agricultural practices.  However, for this funding to continue, this new Farm Bill must reauthorize it.  Both the House and Senate bills would do this by reallocating the remaining IRA funding to existing conservation programs, but the Senate bill would build in “permanent baseline climate-smart practices” while the House bill would strip away the IRA climate-smart guardrails to “provide flexibility for the States.”

By far, the Nutrition Title of the Farm Bill accounts for the majority of the funding, 80%.  Most of this is for the SNAP program (formerly called Food Stamps).  The Senate and House bills differ greatly here.  The 2018 Farm Bill required the Agriculture Department to reevaluate the Thrifty Food Plan, used to set SNAP benefits, every five years.  The USDA’s 2021 update resulted in a 21% increase in benefits.  Republicans said the evaluation was done improperly and violated the Congressional Review Act.  Their bill would make the Thrifty Food Plan cost neutral only allowing increases based on inflation.  The Senate bill would maintain the five-year reevaluation process but require transparency.

The second largest portion of the Farm Bill supports commodities such as corn, soy, rice, wheat, dairy and cotton through price supports, crop insurance and disaster aid.  The Senate bill would increase commodity crop reference prices by at least 5% while the House bill would increase reference prices by 10% to 20%.  Critics are saying that the House would basically be moving funding from SNAP to commodity support.

On a positive note, both the House’s FFNSA and the Senate’s RPFSA include provisions that have been supported by regenerative agriculture and small farm advocates.  These include grants to states and tribes for soil health programs, support for local meat and poultry processing, streamlining of conservation practice standards, including food hubs in local market support, and including agroforestry in conservation programs.  We should applaud these measures.

Finally, there is language that has been “snuck” into the House bill that would protect pesticide and herbicide manufacturers from liability and local regulation.  Section 10204, Uniformity of Pesticide Labeling Requirements, would prohibit any State, municipality or court from penalizing or holding liable any entity for failing to comply with pesticide labeling different from labeling approved by the EPA.  Localities would also be prohibited from imposing any requirements relating to the sale, distribution, labeling, application or use of any pesticide approved by the EPA.  Bayer, the manufacturer of glyphosate, has been losing lawsuits to plaintiffs claiming glyphosate caused their cancer.  If this language is included in the final Farm Bill, it would make it difficult for plaintiffs’ lawyers to claim that glyphosate is a carcinogen since the EPA hasn’t classified it as such.  It would also make it impossible for municipalities to control pesticide use locally.

Many environmental groups have called for the House not to pass the FFNSA.  However, I think that is overly simplistic.  The House and Senate both have to pass their own Farm Bills.  The two bills would then go to a conference committee where the differences would be hammered out.  I recommend a strategy of supporting amendments to the FFNSA to address the above listed issues plus many others.  Since the House will be busy with the appropriations process this summer, it’s expected that the FFNSA will reach the House floor in September.  That’s when amendments will be allowed.  The Senate timeline is unknown at this point.  The current Farm Bill expires on September 30, 2024.  Congress will likely have to extend this further and pass a new Farm Bill in late 2024 or early 2025.

One action you can take is to sign the online petition from Regenerate America, a coalition lobbying for regenerative agriculture support in the Farm Bill.  Go to https://kisstheground.com/petition/#/4/ to sign the petition.  Please sign by June 12 as that is when the petition will be delivered to Congress.


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