How much money will be available for the next farm bill?

It’s a crucial question. Lots of folks would like to see higher reference prices, more spending on conservation, investments in agriculture research and … you name it. The “wish” list goes on and on as farm, environmental and nutrition advocates prepare to work on a new farm bill this year.

The Congressional Budget Office is required, under federal budget law, to provide annual baseline estimates of mandatory spending programs for 10 years. Estimates are made by analysts who presume there are no changes to the law during that period.

As Jonathan Coppess, a former member of the Senate Ag Committee who now writes for FarmDoc and his team note: “The baseline is a critical component to a farm bill’s reauthorization because budget law also requires that the ag committees not spend above their baseline when they reauthorize.”

“This creates a zero-sum game under the baseline—increases in spending for any program or title must be accompanied by decreases in other programs or titles—and it drastically complicates the politics and debate for reauthorization.”

When the 2018 farm bill was enacted in December of that year, CBO estimated the package would cost $867 billion from 2019 to 2028.

However, the farm bill “pie” has changed over time. As of the May 2022 baseline, mandatory outlays grew to almost $1.3 trillion, primarily as a result of increases in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

A new baseline could be available as early as February, according to some Hill sources, and could potentially complicate what members of Congress might be able to do in a new farm bill.

For example, the American Farm Bureau Federation is appealing to Congress to increase commodity program reference prices and marketing loan rates in the next farm bill while also increasing assistance for dairy producers. In total, the nation’s largest general farm organization released an outline of more than 60 farm bill priorities approved by the group’s board of directors. The recommendations also call for protecting funding for conservation in general but proposed rules changes to reduce the enrollment of prime farmland in the Conservation Reserve Program.

AFBF didn’t offer suggestions for ways to pay for the changes it is seeking, which also include increased funding for biofuel and methane digester projects as well as two export promotion programs, Foreign Market Development and the Market Access Program.

Rep. Frank Lucas, R-OK, says the demands for more funding will play out in the legislative process. The former House Agriculture Committee chairman is glad to be back serving as a member of the committee.

“The reference price issue—especially in the last year—has been brought up almost constantly to me by producers,” he told Agri-Pulse in a recent podcast.

“It’s a legit issue, looking at just how much money we’re going to have. How much can we reallocate if we don’t get enough money?” Lucas explained.

Lucas pointed out that he’s now serving in Congress with a very fiscally conservative bunch in the U.S. House of Representatives and Republican majority, albeit only a five-seat majority of the 435 members of Congress.

One of the top issues for many of those conservatives is cutting federal spending, perhaps as part of a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling, and that could include reducing spending on farm bill programs.

It will be challenging to get a new farm bill through both the House and Senate and on to the president’s desk, he noted.

The House and Senate Agriculture Committees have already started a series of farm bill hearings to review the 2018 farm bill.

Lucas says that House Ag Committee Chairman Glenn Thompson, R-PA, will spend the first half of this year doing “fundamental committee hearings, looking at the things that are working or not working” in a process that’s similar to what Senate Ag Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, has advocated.

Lucas said that hopefully, new legislation could be developed in committee, voted on the floor of each chamber and go to conference by Oct. 1 but “that’s a very idealistic and ambitious agenda. The chairman believes we can do it. I believe in the chairman and we’re going to try. But oh my. There’s going to be a lot of twists and turns on the way to get to that final product.”

Sign up for HPJ Insights

Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest news straight to your inbox including breaking news, our exclusive columns and much more.

Editor’s note: Sara Wyant is publisher of Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.,