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Get Ready: How to Prepare as Congress Debates the 2023 Farm Bill

February 28, 2023
By Michael Moroney

The Farm Bill is the most comprehensive piece of nutrition and agriculture legislation passed by Congress at regular intervals, and has a far-reaching impact on farmers, ranchers and households across the United States. Despite the name, more than three-quarters of the legation is traditionally allocated to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other important nutrition initiatives, like Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

The significant impact of this legislation makes it a ‘must pass’ priority in the 118th Congress. However, the divided legislature requires engaging with both sides of the aisle during a session when bipartisan cooperation will be especially challenging.

The Potential Impact of the 2023 Farm Bill

The 2023 Farm Bill has the potential to have a significant impact on farmers, ranchers and consumers across the country. It could expand or reduce certain subsidies, alter trade regulations or change funding and requirements for nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In more recent iterations of the legislation, there has been significantly more focus on conservation and environmental programs.

As Congress debates the 2023 Farm Bill, there are several key issues that are likely to be addressed. These include:

SNAP and Other Nutrition Programs

The Farm Bill includes SNAP, which provides financial assistance to low-income households to purchase food. The lion’s share of the Farm Bill’s funding is allocated to SNAP and other important nutrition initiatives, like WIC.

The 2023 Farm Bill is likely to address funding levels for SNAP and WIC, as well as potential changes to the programs. House Republicans are expected to concentrate their efforts on strengthening work requirements for able-bodied adults.

It’s likely that there will also be proposals to include provisions related to nutrition and health, such as incentives for healthier food choices.

Commodity Programs

The Farm Bill includes a number of commodity programs that provide financial support to farmers and ranchers. These programs are designed to help farmers and ranchers manage risk, increase their incomes and remain competitive in the global marketplace.

The legislation has a broad impact on the way food is produced, what type of food is available and who can access it. For instance, the 2018 Farm Bill reauthorization provided assistance for crops like wheat and corn that are often transformed into highly processed food products, while fruits and vegetables received very little financial assistance. The 2023 Farm Bill is likely to address ongoing levels of support for these programs, as well as potential changes to how they are administered.

Crop Insurance

Right now, the federal government’s strategy to manage agricultural threats primarily revolves around taxpayer-financed crop insurance, which is available to farmers in all 50 states. For both conventional and organic operations, this insurance allows growers to cover up to 120 distinct crops when they experience disasters or damage.

The legislation that was passed in 2014 to benefit small and new farmers included provisions to provide better access to risk mitigation strategies, a more organized structure and quicker distribution of funds. However, there is growing pressure to make even more progress with the 2023 Farm Bill to ensure more equity and accessibility.

Conservation Programs, Climate Change and Sustainability

The Farm Bill also includes a number of conservation programs that are designed to protect natural resources. These programs have been expanded in recent years, and the 2023 Farm Bill is likely to address the ongoing levels of support for these programs. The legislation is also likely to include provisions related to climate change, such as incentives for farmers and ranchers to reduce their emissions and adopt more sustainable practices.

Agricultural Trade

The Farm Bill also includes provisions related to trade. This bill reinforces U. S. agricultural export programs, export credit guarantee programs and foreign food aid programs, both emergency and non-emergency. Additionally, it addresses topics relevant to the World Trade Organization requirements, such as trade disputes and subsidy limits.

Adapting Your Communications Strategy for Success

As Congress debates the 2023 Farm Bill, those invested in the food and agricultural industry should be preparing for the potential changes (good and bad) that the legislation may bring and positioning for the most favorable outcome. This requires sustained, multistakeholder communications efforts.

The current farm bill expires at the end of September, and if both parties can’t come to an agreement before October, they will likely need to pass a short-term extension. While the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry officially kicked off the process with field hearings in 2022, there is a long way to go—and significant gap between Democratic and Republic priorities.

Keeping tabs on the debate over the 2023 Farm Bill is the first step—invested parties should be watching the evolution of the legislation closely and aligning their communications strategy with their desired result. While keeping long-term goals in mind, it may be important to pivot tactics based on the current state of play as the bill comes together.