by Kody Bessent, CEO of Plains Cotton Growers, Inc.
As the agriculture industry has experienced unparalleled challenges over the last five years, it has seen key changes in federal farm policy that could influence the development of the 2023 Farm Bill.
Since the enactment of the 2018 Farm Bill, the U.S. agriculture industry has experienced unmatched natural disasters brought on by hurricanes, wildfires, high winds, drought, and even a polar vortex. Economically, the industry has been affected by high tariffs, squeezed market shares, and lower prices as trade negotiations such as the United States Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and the Phase I China Agreement ensued. The global economy continues to grapple with the impacts of the pandemic, both on individuals and industries. As a result of these recent incidents, federal agriculture policy has morphed into ad hoc assistance to address the agriculture industry’s immediate challenges.
For cotton specifically, the Cotton Ginning Cost Share Program (CGCS) was created to weather the financial and economic toil cotton producers faced due to years of low prices and high input costs. At the same time, they were unable to participate in the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs in the farm bill. Additionally, as trade disruptions arose during recent trade negotiations, the Market Facilitation Program (MFP) was established to aid the agriculture industry suffering from the damages that followed.
As the agriculture sector has faced catastrophic natural disasters, the Wildfire, Hurricane Indemnity Program (WHIP+) was developed to address production losses that traditional farm bill policy could not mitigate. Pandemic relief programs such as the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), the Pandemic Cover Crop Program (PCCP), and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) provided financial assistance to the agriculture industry as it faced price disruption and additional marketing costs due to COVID-19. These relief programs also helped maintain employment until the U.S. and global economy could re-open and stabilize.
As leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees begin to prepare for the debate and development of the 2023 Farm Bill in Congress, the programs mentioned above may help frame and influence the discussion and policy debate. Agriculture committees in both the upper and lower chambers could begin the legislative process of the 2023 Farm Bill this coming spring. However, as Congress continues to tackle higher-profile policy items such as budget reconciliation, transportation and infrastructure, the debt ceiling, and other matters—not to mention the onset of the 2022 Congressional election— the timeline for authorizing a new farm bill could be altered before the current legislation expires.
If Congress begins preparing the new bill, crop insurance will likely continue to serve as the cornerstone of farm policy. Lawmakers may seek to make improvements to crop insurance and Title I programs to address catastrophic natural disasters more readily where traditional farm bill policy has fallen short and avoid continuous ad hoc disaster-based programs.
Additionally, many lawmakers will likely focus on agricultural and food supply chain issues caused by trade disruption and the COVID-19 pandemic. As current supply chain issues and recent outcomes of pandemic relief are assessed, they’ll determine if proactive measures can be implemented to mitigate or ultimately avoid disruption in the U.S. food supply chain if a future pandemic or other incident occurs.
The ongoing debate of climate and climate smart agriculture can also shape farm bill discussions. While this policy topic remains a fluid focus across many industry sectors, sustainability initiatives can influence how Congress takes up and reforms conservation programs that we currently utilize today.
There have been 18 farm bills since 1933. Each bill has provided a unique set of policy tools for agriculture to address the known challenges the industry faced then, and the development of the 2023 farm bill will be no different. Remaining active and engaged throughout the legislative process with Congress, commodity organizations, and others will be vital in helping shape this important legislation for the benefit of all farmers and producers.