Ag Policy Blog

House, Senate Ag Chairs Announce Plans for Drafting a Farm Bill This Year

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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A cover crop mix for a field near Spring Mills, Pa. The new Treasury guidance for using biofuels to produce sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) requires both corn and soybean farmers to use cover crops. While praising the use of on-farm practices to lower a biofuel's carbon intensity score, groups also criticized the Treasury rule for penalizing farms that do not use no-till practices or cover crops. (DTN photo by Joel Reichenberger)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Prospective farm bill plans laid out in both the U.S. House and Senate would see some tweaks to reference prices, potentially allow some farmers to add new base acres and expand crop insurance coverage for farmers as well.

After months of talks and delay, the leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees each laid out separate farm-bill proposals on Wednesday with goals of pushing Congress to pass a new bill this year.

The House and Senate plans still suffer from the same divisions over nutrition and conservation that have dogged both committees since they started the process of drafting a new farm bill in early 2023.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman GT Thompson, R-Pa., released an overview of the GOP farm bill, stating his plan is to mark-up the bill in committee on May 23.

"This bill is a product of an extensive and transparent process, which includes soliciting feedback from members of both political parties, stakeholder input from across the nation, and some tough conversations," Thompson said. "Each title of this farm bill reflects a commitment to the American farmer and viable pathways to funding those commitments and is equally responsive to the politics of the 118th Congress."

Thompson would fund program changes across USDA with an estimated $28 billion over 10 years that would come from limiting projected spending increases in nutrition programs, mainly the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., responded by saying Thompson and other Republicans had rejected a bipartisan compromise "that could invest tens of billions of dollars in the farm bill safety net without cuts to SNAP benefits." He called Thompson's plan "an untenable funding scheme."

Scott added, "By insisting on poison pill policies, Republicans have turned what could have been a genuinely bipartisan bill into a messaging exercise to appease their right flank that has no chance of becoming law."

As Thompson announced his plans in the House. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., also released her proposal for different titles, or sections, of the farm bill. Talking to reporters Wednesday, Stabenow said her bill is trying not to cross "bright lines" to garner a bipartisan vote in committee and on the Senate floor. She doesn't have a date for a mark-up but said she will continue "serious, bipartisan negotiations" to reach an agreement before setting a markup date.

"When I go to committee, I want to know we have bipartisan votes to pass it," she said.

Right now, the 2018 farm bill is operating under a one-year extension that expires Sept. 30.

"The clock is running. We need it as soon as possible."

Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., ranking member of the Senate Ag Committee, called the release of Stabenow's framework "a welcome development." He indicated a Senate GOP framework will come after the House takes up its bill. With both committees moving forward with plans, Boozman said he is confident a bill can still be done in this Congress.

"Our actions must reflect the realities in farm country," Boozman said. "Farmers are facing challenging times that, by every metric, are likely to continue in the coming years. Considering the farm bill only comes around every five years, we must ensure we do right by our farmers and make meaningful investments in the risk management tools they rely on to weather the storm."

REFERENCE PRICES

For commodity producers, Thompson's bill would increase reference prices for the Agricultural Risk Coverage/Price Loss Coverage (ARC/PLC) programs. It also would provide authority to expand base acres to include farmers who currently might not have base acres to enroll in ARC or PLC.

Under Stabenow's plan, commodity crops would see a minimum 5% increase in reference prices, but cotton, peanuts and rice producers would see higher increases in reference prices.

On reference prices, she said the "accelerator" language in the 2018 farm bill already assures most commodities would see a 10% to 15% increase in the PLC/ARC prices. Her plan would create a new accelerator provision for cotton, peanuts and rice aimed to ensure at least a 5% increase.

The Senate bill will be aided by a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to add $5 billion in new money. "We just went in to fill the gaps and used the money to do that," Stabenow said.

CROP INSURANCE

Both frameworks would increase crop insurance premium subsidies for beginning and veteran farmers.

The two plans also look to expand coverage options. The House overview points to efforts "to reduce the need for unbudgeted ad-hoc disaster assistance."

The Senate plan would expand the Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO) by boosting the premium subsidy to 80% and increasing coverage levels to 88% to align more with ARC.

Both proposals also would direct USDA to develop more policies, including setting up an advisory committee for specialty crop producers.

The Senate plan also would allow USDA to offer more "performance-based discounts" for practices such as precision irrigation, fertilizer reduction, crop rotations and cover crops.

Stabenow said her framework also includes more tweaks to policies such as whole farm insurance to expand policy options for small and medium-sized farmers.

CONSERVATION

In the conservation title, the House and Senate plans would each "roll" about $15 billion of unspent funds into the farm bill that was provided in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in 2023. Doing so would immediately boost the long-term baseline dollars for conservation. The IRA money, though, has provisions that it must be used for practices that sequester carbon or reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The House plan would strip that language for "locally led conservation." The Senate plan includes the "guardrails for climate," Stabenow said.

NUTRITION

The House overview states the bill would provide access to families that formerly have been prevented from receiving benefits. It adjusts work programs "to support upward mobility," and modernizes some food nutrition programs. It also "creates egregious executive branch overreach," which largely stems from the Biden administration updating the Thrifty Food Plan, which increased the cost of SNAP as much as $300 billion over ten years. It was the first time cost updates had been done for the Thrifty Food Plan in 45 years, but that decision by USDA also inflated the costs of the next farm bill as well.

Thompson's plan would essentially trim some of those projected SNAP spending costs by freezing them. That also allowed the House GOP to boost spending on other titles of the farm bill.

Defending the Biden administration's move, Stabenow's plan doesn't make any changes to the Thrifty Food Plan. Instead, she said her proposal squeezed some efficiencies out of USDA's nutrition programs.

"We don't take money out of the nutrition title to fund another part of the bill, which has never been done," Stabenow said. She added, "I feel good about the nutrition title and what we're doing."

Stabenow also added she doesn't support the House plan "at all."

House Agriculture Committee majority overview: https://agriculture.house.gov/…

Senate Agriculture Committee majority framework: https://www.agriculture.senate.gov/…

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

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