Process for 2023 ag bill working its way from farm belt to Beltway

Dave Bergmeier

With all of the challenges that farmers and ranchers are facing their interest in politics might only be coffee shop fodder but Congress has started on the 2023 farm bill.

On March 21, an Ag and Food Policy Summit sponsored by Agri-Pulse and its partners provided a glimpse into what’s ahead as House and Senate leaders plan many hearings.

Farm legislation has a big price tag. The estimated cost of the 2018 farm bill was $867 billion over a 10-year period, according to the Congressional Budget Office, said Randy Russell, the president of The Russell Group. Russell’s history with farm bills dates back to the Reagan administration.

He said about 76% of the cost is for nutrition programs, 9% for crops, 7% for conservation and 7% for other farm-related programs. Russell said the challenge of passing legislation for a farm bill is it takes 218 yes votes in the House, for example, and he identified only 35 districts that are considered rural meaning coalitions are essential.

Former U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, and former Congressman Collin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat, offered similar views.

Roberts says farmers and ranchers need consistency and predictability from a farm bill. Roberts is the only member of Congress to chair the House and Senate agriculture committees. That predictability and consistency will be hard-pressed in this era because Russia invaded Ukraine in late February. The ongoing conflict has sent wheat and corn prices higher along with input costs.

The Senate needs 60 votes to pass a farm bill, which ensures bipartisan work, he said. One of the challenges, though, is getting Congress members to take time to talk to each other instead of at each other. He pointed out a time when Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, the ranking member, wanted to learn about High Plains agriculture. In preparation for the 2018 bills she came to Manhattan, Kansas, and wore a purple outfit to salute Kansas State University and when Roberts went to Michigan, he wore a green suit to pay homage to Michigan State University. Both universities are original land-grant colleges.

Roberts said to develop the right policy means Republicans and Democrats have to work together and ultimately the bill must be signed into law by President Joe Biden. Both Roberts and Peterson said the minefields of turf battles, from crops to dairy policy, are nothing new but are magnified in partisanship that can get personal in a hurry. We agree and ask that members focus on the task.

During the summit, which included policy experts and leaders of the Senate and House agriculture committees, attendees said they expect climate mitigation and risk management tools both will be included in the next bill. Chuck Conner, CEO of the National Council of Farmers Cooperatives, believes that the 2023 farm bill have to be climate friendly to get through Congress.

Congressman G.T. Thompson, House Ag Committee ranking member from Pennsylvania, who came to Kansas on March 21 and 22, said much work is ahead as the 2018 bill expires in September 2023. Thompson said Congress needs to ask questions about the impact of inflation, supply chain disruptions and recognize that American agriculture should be recognized and rewarded for its work on climate.

The farm bill has to have flexibility to help producers with risk management, Thompson said. House Ag Committee Chairman David Scott, a Georgia Democrat, added that agriculture is the country’s most important industry and the challenges of drought to farmers and ranchers and forests are on his mind.

Much work is ahead and it is going to take a lot of patience, input and feedback to get a 2023 farm bill that will provide certainty in an unpredictable time.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].