The Farm Bill

The Farm Bill is a giant piece of legislation that makes headlines every five-to-seven years as it is renewed in Congress. Developed originally as an emergency measure for farmers during the Great Depression, the Farm Bill now addresses a wide swath of issues shaping the lives of every American. Its impacts on family farm agriculture and on eaters cannot be overstated, which is why we tune in here at Farm Aid every time it comes around.

Farm Bill Facts:

  • The Farm Bill is BIG. The last Farm Bill, The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, was a 673-page behemoth that cost a whopping $288 billion.
  • The Farm Bill is an “omnibus” legislation, meaning it covers a broad variety of programs and policies all in one package.
  • The Farm Bill has chapters. Each Farm Bill is organized by “Title” – the last Farm Bill had 15 titles, including Commodities, Conservation, Trade, Nutrition, Credit, Rural Development, Research, Forestry, Energy, Horticulture & Organic Agriculture, Livestock, Crop Insurance, Commodity Futures, Miscellaneous and Trade & Taxes.
  • The Farm Bill is historic. The first Farm Bill programs emerged in the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, which addressed widespread domestic hunger surrounding The Great Depression, falling crop prices for farmers and catastrophic drought (The Dust Bowl).
  • Most Farm Bill money funds nutrition. Over two-thirds of the Farm Bill funds the Nutrition Title, the largest source of funding for federal nutrition assistance programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (formerly called food stamps).
  • The Commodity Title is smaller than you think. Though it continuously attracts public scrutiny, controversy and intense lobbying efforts, only about 15 percent ($42 billion) of the Farm Bill is devoted to commodity payments for the production of corn, soybeans, wheat and other non-perishable crops.
  • The Farm Bill conserves. The most significant source of federal funding for land conservation and preservation is the Farm Bill’s Conservation Title. Around 9 percent of 2008 Farm Bill funding supported programs designed to conserve soil, protect water, and preserve wildlife and other natural resources. Despite this, the U.S. loses 2 billion tons of soil each year to erosion, jeopardizing the long-term health of our food and agricultural system.
  • Fruits and veggies are left out in the cold. Despite their importance to a healthy diet, fruits and vegetables (and the farmers who grow them!) only receive a small sliver of funding in the Farm Bill—about $50 million in the 2008 Farm Bill.
  • The Farm Bill can make positive change: The 2008 Farm Bill contained a number of programs supporting sustainable agriculture, organic farmers, beginning farmers, local and regional food systems and other measures contributing to a vibrant family farm agriculture. But farmers and eaters will have to fight hard to keep these programs in the next Farm Bill.
  • Each Farm Bill has an expiration date. Most Farm Bills are set to expire after 5 years, at which point Congress must reauthorize it. If Congress fails to find agreement to do so, policy reverts back to 1949 farm law as a fallback measure. The 2008 Farm Bill has officially expired.

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