Ag Policy Blog

Farm Bill? Who Wants to Talk About the Farm Bill?

If you ask politicians these days anything about the upcoming farm bill debate in 2017, you get something along the lines of the classic meltdown by Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Mora in 2001, after his team fell to 4-6 with a bad loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

Some reporter asked Mora what he thought about his team’s chances of making the playoffs.

“Playoffs!?,” Mora fired back. “Playoffs? Are you kidding me? I just hope we can win another game.”

‘Farm bill? Farm bill? Talk to me after the November elections about the farm bill and we’ll see where we stand,’ has been a common response from farm country politicians in recent months.

Well, the Colts finished 6-10 that season and didn’t make the playoffs. They suffered a shellacking similar to what politicians felt leading up to the highly contentious passage of the 2014 farm bill.

No one is willing to handicap just how contentious the 2017 debate will be, but an analysis by farmdoc daily at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Friday provides a good outline of how commodity alliances form.

One of the biggest shifts, according to farmdoc, is the wide expansion of soybean acres from when the farm bill program started in 1933 to the most recent 2014 farm bill.

Also, the analysis written by Jonathan Coppess and Todd Kuethe in the U of I’s department of agricultural and consumer economics, talks about how wheat interests aren’t as well aligned as, say, those between corn and soybean producers.

Farmdoc points to the expansion of soybean acres as a major driving force in farm bill policy throughout the decades.

“The traditional corn-cotton-wheat coalition covered an extensive area of national production but concentrated within regions: corn in the Midwest, cotton in the South, and wheat split north to south in the Great Plains,” the analysis said.

“USDA-NASS planted acres data indicates a significant change in commodity plantings over the course of farm bill history (1933 to 2014)...Perhaps, the most notable trend is the increased acres planted to soybeans, going from negligible acres in 1933 to the second-largest crop in the country at over 83 million acres in 2014...

“Acres planted to rice and peanuts are significantly smaller than the other crops and less clear...Peanut acres spiked during World War II, breaking 5 million acres planted in 1943. Rice acres have never topped 4 million acres, with an all-time high of 3.827 million acres in 1981. Importantly, these crops have all long been covered by the programs in the commodity title of the farm bill and thus play a role in the farm coalition and farm bill debates.”

Farmdoc compares the geographical crop alliance regions of soybeans, peanuts and rice, to various Congressional districts to get an idea of the largest possible political footprint for each commodity.

“As before, the political footprint for soybeans, peanuts and rice indicate the potential political reach of each commodity but actual political influence may differ,” the analysis said.

“Together the maps provide additional perspective because of the overlap of these political footprints. Specifically, the overlaps facilitate the commodity and regional alliances in a farm bill debate. For example, corn and soybeans have similar political footprints concentrated in the Midwest and are thus natural allies in a farm bill debate. The same is true for the Southern commodities cotton, peanuts and rice, with the exception of rice produced in northern California. Wheat's political footprint does not align well with either group.”

The point being, regional political footprints of commodities obviously will determine who influences the debate.

Farm groups already are engaged in discussions about strategy leading up to next year,….

“The maps raise questions for further exploration and analysis,” farmdoc said. “They are only indicators of potential political influence and other factors need to be evaluated. One matter would be the relative economic impact of the commodities within Congressional districts. Another would be the specific influence of Congressional members of these districts, such as the commodity production in districts represented on the House Agriculture Committee. Combined, these could also provide indicators of prioritization within regions containing multiple commodities, such as the Mississippi Delta.”

Farm bill? Who wants to talk about the farm bill?

Read the full analysis here:…

Todd Neeley can be reached at

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