After a year-long extension and months of speculation, this week will finally see the kick-off hearing for a new Farm Bill. It means it is time for even the casual Farm Bill observers to sit up and pay attention.  

The House Committee on Agriculture has the “Markup of the Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024” scheduled for Thursday.

The drama got underway this past week when U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson took the first step by releasing the Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024. Comments and criticism have been pouring in ever since, as with a Senate version for the 2024 Farm Bill.

Thompson got some praise for just putting his on the table. National Association of State Departments of Agriculture CEO Ted McKinney said: “NASDA applauds Chairman Thompson for beginning the process of creating the next farm bill,” McKinney said.

“With the release of the legislative text, NASDA remains committed to advocating for a bipartisan farm bill that will secure a commitment to American agriculture and the critical food and nutritional assistance programs for those who need it most. Signing a farm bill into law is vital to the food and agriculture sector, which benefits our economy, accounting for roughly one-fifth of U.S. economic activity and supporting nearly 23 million jobs. We welcome the opportunity to work with the House Agriculture Committee as they begin debating the Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024.”

Some have read the draft Farm Bill and liked it.

The American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) statement said “specifically thanks Chairman Thompson for ensuring that all Americans have access to nutritious, quality food options by including frozen fruits and vegetables in key nutrition programs.”

AFFI said, ‘The bill released today by the House Agriculture Committee encourages USDA to give equal consideration to all forms of produce in programs funded through the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP). The Farm Bill text also specifically requires all forms of fruits and vegetables, including frozen produce, in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Produce Prescription Program.”

The comprehensive omnibus farm bill will likely cost taxpayers $1.5 trillion over ten years.  The bill will set the federal government’s agriculture and food policy for the next decade.  The next few weeks will tell whether House and Senate competing partisan versions can be combined into one bipartisan vision.

The deadline for Congress to pass a new Farm Bill is Sept. 30.

The GOP Freedom Caucus, which may demand cuts, could hinder Chairman Thompson’s bill.  His bill does not cut nutrition programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  And those are put off-limits by the Democrats. Such former Food Stamp programs account for 80 percent of the current Farm Bill spending.

Chairman Thompson, R-PA,  has included a provision in his Farm Bill to overturn state laws demanding expanded living space for certain farm animals, language aimed at  California’s Prop 12. During committee work planned for May 23, Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy are expected to vigorously oppose any Farm Bill that includes any portion of the so-called EATS Act language.

Veteran Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley has gone on record, predicting that the issues will keep the House and Senato divided on the Farm Bill. He also noted that the Farm Bill was not on Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s list of 17 bills he wanted to complete.

If the bill expires, it could jeopardize nutritional programs like SNAP and WIC and impact a wide umbrella of issues from crop insurance to conservation efforts.

According to Grassley, the farm bill is 85 percent food stamps and nutrition programs, with the other 15 percent going  to agriculture. But he says 15 percent doesn’t go into the farmers’ pockets. “Maybe a little bit of it does,” he adds, “but it’s for programs to promote agriculture to protect farmers against catastrophic price drops.”

But some non-farm organizations, like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. (ASPCA) are lining up against the House version because they object to the inclusion of the EATS Act language.

ASPCA says the Farm Bill authored by Thompson “ would overturn important farm animal protection laws that ban extreme confinement of egg-laying hens, mother pigs and calves. This policy would prohibit states from regulating agricultural products, creating a race to the bottom that hurts animals, farmers, and consumers and threatens to overturn the will of voters across the country.”

In a statement, the Organization for Competitive Markets and Competitive Markets Action said this in response to  Thompson’s Farm Bill release: “Chairman’s Thompson’s Farm Bill is exactly what we expected and is a direct reflection of the continued corruption in the so-called swamp that has put countless American family farmers out of business decade after decade. The measure panders to industrial agriculture monopolies like the Chinese-owned Smithfield, the National Pork Producers Council, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and would nullify countless state laws across the country that protect the last few remaining independent pork producers in our nation with its slimmed down version of the EATS Act.

“This corrupt Farm Bill also fails to address the long-standing unethical practices that we’ve seen in the USDA’s scandal-ridden Commodity Checkoff Programs that the OFF Act would help prevent, and we will be lobbying with every resource we have to defeat it. We call on Speaker Mike Johnson to let this bill die in Committee and on our champions on the House Freedom Caucus to do everything in their power to defeat it should it brought to a vote before the full U.S. House of Representatives. Our producers would be better off with no new Farm Bill than the swamp that was released today.” 

Others, however, are ready to go with the House Farm bill.

“The Land Trust Alliance commends House Agriculture Committee Chair GT Thompson (R-PA) for releasing Farm Bill text that reflects many of the Land Trust Alliance’s highest priorities, including a historic investment in the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program through increased annual funding as well as provisions that would allow more landowners to participate in ACEP by increasing the federal share to 65 percent for most transactions and reducing barriers for historically underserved landowners. 

The text also recognizes land trusts’ expertise by granting certified land trusts a streamlined path to administer easements and minimize administrative burdens on the Secretary. Together, these and other inclusions constitute a giant step toward providing consistency and certainty for landowners to leverage limited agency resources and grant flexibility that allows for the long-term care of easements.

“We applaud the Committee for including a stand-alone Forest Conservation Easement Program with mandatory funding. This program will fill a critical gap in conserving working forested lands and help keep them intact and sustainably managed, providing numerous economic and environmental benefits to rural and urban communities.”

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