In a recent survey conducted by Upstart University, 70% of respondents stated that they were unsure of whether the Farm Bill would impact their [future] business. Yet ironically all respondents plan on investing in some kind of energy-efficient equipment in the next year, whether that’s lighting, HVAC, pumps, or motors.
These two facts conflict with each other! Why? Because the Farm Bill directly influences how billions of government dollars are allocated —and that includes the programs that can help farmers launch or scale their farms.
In other words: the Farm Bill will affect your business more than you think! And the next month is a critical period.
Survey respondents also rated their Farm Bill knowledge at an average of 14—out of a hundred. Ouch. To help you get up to speed, here’s a quick primer on the Farm Bill, its contents, how it’s created, and how you can impact the outcome.
The Farm Bill is the biggest collection of food and ag-related policy for the U.S.
The Farm Bill is the most powerful collection of food, nutrition and agricultural policy, intertwined with all kinds of farms, how they function, and the economics surrounding them. It’s separated into sections (“titles”) that cover the policy around a certain topic, from conservation and energy, to nutrition programs, to rural development, to crop insurance, to beginning farmers. Every farmer has a vested interest in at least one of these topics!
If you’ve been listening to news or skimming headlines in the last few months, you’ve seen discussions of the upcoming version of the Farm Bill. The reason that so many people are involved in the Bill is that it decides how a lot of money is directed. For example, the last Farm Bill cost an estimated 95 billion dollars a year. Roughly 75% of that went towards nutrition programs (mostly SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
With so much funding and other programs and benefits hanging in the balance, there’s a lot to fight for. (Learn more about that in our next post.)
How the Farm Bill works
In most cases, the Farm Bill has a defined 5-year lifecycle with distinct decision making points. It starts when two different versions of the Bill are drafted—one by the House Agriculture committee, and one by the Senate Agriculture committee. Once the drafts have been passed in the House and the Senate, a new “conference committee” is formed to work out the differences. It includes the Chairs of the House and Senate Agriculture committees as well as a mix of other Senators and Representatives. (This is the current stage of the Farm Bill. Meet the Conference Committee members from the Senate and the House.)
The Conference Committee members will reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill into a single piece of legislation. That legislation goes back to be debated and voted on in both the House and the Senate. If it doesn’t pass, the debate goes back to the Ag Committees. When it does pass Congress, it is sent to the President and becomes law if it is signed. On rare occasions, the President has vetoed Farm Bills in the past. Congress can then vote to override a veto with a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber.
A process designed for input
When the Farm Bill was first created under President Roosevelt in the wake of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, it had three original goals: fair food prices, adequate food supply, and protection of America’s natural resources. It is the duty of the Agriculture Committees to protect these goals.
You are an expert on the minute details and nuances of how those goals play out. You live them every day! This makes your insight a precious resource to those working on the Farm Bill. (Hurray for democratic government!) One of the best things you can do is make sure that lawmakers are aware of your needs by speaking up.
Stay tuned for more on the Farm Bill and what it means for your business
Curious what will affect your farm the most in the Farm Bill? Next time, we’re going to cover specific issues in the Farm Bill that could affect indoor farmers—and what you can do about them.