It’s likely to bring the year’s biggest bipartisan, bicameral agreement. It will commit taxpayers to spend another half trillion dollars. It will make promises that aren’t logical. And its impact on food safety will be negligible.

It is the 2023 Farm Bill, which the Democrat-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House agriculture committees hope to reach an agreement on by late this year. Special interests are lining up for their slice of the bill, which will replace the 5-year-old 2018 Farm Bill set to expire on Oct. 1.

The “Farm Bill” is the vehicle Congress uses every five years to set national agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and forestry policy. The House and Senate agricultural committees began field hearings late last year on the 2023 Farm Bill, and are now working exclusively on it.

After numerous ups and downs, the 2018 Farm Bill did not reach the President’s desk until right before Christmas. The broad scope of the “Farm Bill” is best illustrated by its many “titles,” including Commodities, Conservation, Trade, Nutrition, Credit, Rural Development, Research, Extension, and Related Matters, Forestry, Energy, Horticulture, Crop Insurance, and Miscellaneous.

Special interests for the “Farm Bill” come in all shapes and sizes, broad and narrow. An example of broad interest is the $53 billion U.S. organic sector, much of which is represented by the Organic Trade Association (OTA).

OTA’s priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill include: 

  • Updating the Organic Foods Production Act to establish a preplanned, predictable timeline (no later than once every five years) to review and update the organic standards so they continue to meet consumer expectations in an evolving marketplace; 
  • Strengthening the National Organic Program’s (NOP) enforcement authority against false or misleading organic claims;
  • Increasing funding for core organic programs authorized in the Farm Bill including the Organic Research and Education Initiative (OREI), Organic Data Initiative (ODI), Organic Certification Cost-Share Program (OCCSP), and the National Organic Program;
  • Expanding organic market data collection and improving risk management tools for organic farmers;
  • Prioritizing and increasing funding for conservation practices that build soil health;
  • Acknowledging certified organic agriculture’s contributions to protecting natural resources in current and future USDA conservation and climate-smart verification programs;
  • Authorizing and investing in new programs to increase technical assistance for organic and transitioning farmers and to facilitate market development and infrastructure grants to expand domestic organic production and processing capacity as piloted by the USDA’s Organic Transition Initiative. 

OTA said its prioritized policies ensure organic standards keep pace with marketplace demands and provide supportive research and risk management tools to organic farmers. It called for conservation and climate-smart programs to reward organic farmers for the contributions of organic practices in protecting natural resources and encouraged Congress to enact policies that strengthen the resiliency of the organic supply chain. 

“Organic is one of the country’s fastest-growing food production and processing categories, but despite the organic sector’s strengths and marketplace success, the industry faces core challenges that Congress must address in the next Farm Bill,” said Tom Chapman, CEO of the trade association. “The benefits of organic go far beyond the farm gate. To sustain organic’s growth and expand its positive impacts, we’ve developed a set of priorities that will build off the progress made in the 2018 Farm Bill.”  

New to “Farm Bill” jockeying in 2023 are all the environmental interests working on the climate issue. The “Inflation Reduction Act” included $20 billion for pre-existing Farm Bill programs, including addressing the drought in Western states.

USDA has handed out more than $3.1 billion for 141 projects to support the production and marketing of so-called “climate-smart commodities.” Where USDA is going with its “climate-smart” slogan will likely come out during the Farm Bill deliberations. Likely, however, it will be a long time before Farmer Brown can call the County Extension agent to ask for more rain on his back 40.

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