by Zippy Duvall, President, American Farm Bureau Federation, from the Winter 2023 issue of Terra Firma
One piece of legislation has had as profound an impact on America as thousands of other bills combined, yet few people are familiar with it. I’m referring to the farm bill, which ensures a safe and abundant food supply, helps feed the hungry, invigorates rural communities and helps farmers take care of the environment. We could more accurately call it a food and farm bill because whether you come from a rural community, a city or a suburb, this bill matters for you and your family.
For a long time, we have noticed a trend that fewer and fewer people understand the food system or have exposure to agriculture, but 2023 may present the biggest challenge yet. We’ll have fewer members of Congress who even represent rural districts, along with a huge class of new members. So, it is going to take everyone in agriculture stepping up to help new members and urban lawmakers understand the significance of the farm bill.
Farm Bill Meets Today’s Challenges
The farm bill has had a broad, visible impact across our country. Family farms have continued to feed and fuel our country from one generation to the next because of USDA’s numerous risk management tools and programs. More families can put dinner on the table thanks to nutrition assistance programs. Our natural resources are being enriched through voluntary conservation programs. Rural communities are getting back in the game thanks to broadband grants and new business loans authorized by the farm bill. Soon it will be time to refresh and renew this nearly 100-year-old law, and it’s just as relevant today thanks to how we have adapted and modernized this bill to keep up with agricultural innovation and the needs of the modern farmer and rancher.
Just as agriculture changes and adapts to meet the needs of the time, so does the farm bill. Every five years or so, Congress passes a new farm bill to meet the challenges of an ever-changing landscape and ensure that critical programs continue to work for farmers and ranchers, families on a budget, and rural communities working to stay competitive.
At the American Farm Bureau, renewing the farm bill is our top priority, and we recently announced more than 60 recommendations for the 2023 bill. These priorities represent months of work and collaboration across our organization from our grassroots members, state Farm Bureau leaders and staff from across the country. The AFBF board of directors unanimously approved the priorities, and we’ll be looking to Farm Bureau delegates at the 104th American Farm Bureau Convention in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in January to provide final direction in shaping our policy.
Food Supply and National Security
Among our top priorities going into 2023 is ensuring appropriate farm bill funding. This funding is an investment for all Americans, and there’s no question as we look at recent global events from the pandemic to the war on Ukraine, that protecting our nation’s food supply is vital to our national security. Agriculture does not take this national investment lightly either. Farm bill programs are market-oriented, thanks to reforms we have achieved with lawmakers over the last decade. The proof is in the spending: The fact that the 2018 farm bill farm programs have paid out less than projected is evidence of the responsible approach taken.
Another priority for us is to maintain a unified farm bill, and that means keeping nutrition programs and farm programs together. Why is that so important? Because it makes the most sense for a single bill to support the people who produce the food and the people who need assistance to access safe and nutritious food for their families. Few people have not been touched by tough times in one form or another over the last couple years. From rising inflation to natural disasters, many need support to hang on for the next season. The farm bill is that lifeline for many Americans through the nutrition assistance programs and for farmers and ranchers through risk management programs that are really part of our national security strategy by helping to secure our food supply.
The importance of maintaining risk management tools in the farm bill cannot be overstated. Federal crop insurance and commodity programs are critical for farmers and ranchers. No one buys insurance for the good times, and when you buy that insurance, you truly hope that policy will remain safely tucked away. But when the storms come, federal risk management programs are sometimes all that stand between farms and foreclosure.
Innovation and the Environment
The farm bill is also critical as we work together to build a bright future for agriculture. The farm bill is the largest source of funding for critical research that our country needs to fuel the innovation that will help us feed a growing population while taking care of our natural resources. Application must go hand in hand with innovation and that requires strong technical support from USDA helping farmers apply new technologies. But we’ve seen a disheartening trend when it comes to staffing at USDA to fulfill its mission. That’s why the 2023 farm bill must ensure adequate USDA staffing and resources to provide technical assistance.
This is just a sampling of the priorities that will be driving our advocacy at Farm Bureau around the farm bill in the coming months. I invite you to learn more on our website at fb.org/farmbill, where you can dive into all 60 of our recommendations and check out market impact analysis related to farm bill programs.
The farm bill is a win-win for America. Securing our food supply while ensuring food security. Both are fundamental to the health and security of our country. That’s the overarching message and how we’ll overcome the deep partisan divide in our country today. The farm bill has a long tradition of inspiring lawmakers to rise above politics to achieve a common goal. We urge the 118th Congress, when seated, to carry on that tradition.
It’s incumbent upon all of us in agriculture to make sure elected leaders understand just how consequential the food and farm bill is. We must get this 2023 farm bill right, and it will take all of us working together to ensure that our nation’s investment in our farms and food supply remains secure.
Zippy Duvall is president of the American Farm Bureau Federation and a third-generation farmer from Georgia. He and his son operate a beef cow herd, raise broiler chickens and grow their own hay, all while continuing to restore the farmland that has been in the family for more than 90 years.