Share this

Eight months after the original deadline, there’s been some movement on the new Farm Bill but political conflicts and agribusiness influence present a challenge. Learn about how the policy process works and hear from IATP’s Michael Happ and Ben Lilliston about the House Farm Bill draft and what comes next. 

Enjoying the podcast series? Find all episodes here.

Listen on SpotifyApple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.


This podcast is made possible through the generous support of our listeners. Donate here to support IATP's work.



00:00:00 Ben Lilliston 

Well, there's definitely some elements in the House Farm Bill that almost appear to have been written by agribusiness, and it may have been. 

00:00:23 Lilly Richard 

From the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, I’m Lilly Richard, and this is the Farm Bill Uprooted, back with a short update about what’s been happening with the 2023 — now 2024 Farm Bill. If you missed the first six episodes of this series, or just need a refresher, you can go back and listen to them to learn about how the Farm Bill, a huge piece of legislation renewed every five years, shapes food and farm policy in the U.S. — for better or for worse. When we last left off, the current Farm Bill, passed in 2018, was due to expire at the end of September 2023, and Congress needed to pass a new one. Well, they didn’t. 

00:01:10 Lilly 

Amid some congressional chaos over the debt ceiling in fall 2023, the current bill technically expired, leaving many programs — and the people who depend on them — in limbo. In November, Congress passed a one-year extension of the 2018 bill, providing some stability for another year of nutrition assistance and farm programs, but also leaving in place all of the problems with the status quo. This means that the new deadline to pass a new Farm Bill is September 30, 2024. Will it happen by then? Well… we’ll see. 

00:01:51 Lilly 

To understand what's going on, here's a little backgrounder on how the Farm Bill political process works. In both Chambers of Congress, the House and the Senate, a handful of representatives and senators sit on their respective agriculture committees. Often, these are people who represent big agricultural states or districts where food security is a major issue. After hearing input from their constituents as well as Big Ag lobbyists, of course, the House and Senate Ag committees put together separate draft Farm Bills, usually written by committee leadership. These drafts are published, then amended in public markup sessions by committee. Members then voted up or down by the committee. After the bills pass out of committee, they're introduced at some point to the House and Senate floors, where all Members have the chance to debate, amend and vote on the bills. Once both versions have passed, a conference committee is formed with members from the House and the Senate to reconcile the two versions of the bill, then both Chambers vote again on the combined version of the bill, and if it passes, it's signed into law by the president or vetoed sending it back to Congress to try again. But other than the September 30 deadline, there's no set timeline for all of this to happen, and every step of the process can be held up in our increasingly dysfunctional political system. I talked to IATP's Michael Happ, who's been following the Farm Bill. 

00:03:31 Lilly 

So, what has been happening with the Farm Bill since we left off in September? 

00:03:37 Michael Happ 

Well, yeah, last year they extended the Farm Bill for another year. So, Congress can build themselves a little more time to actually write the bill. And just in the past month or so, after a long pause of just kind of nothing, both the House and the Senate kind of unleashed a flurry of activity. The Senate released a pretty detailed framework of what their Farm Bill looks like. And then the House followed suit and then ended up releasing their full Farm Bill, about 942 pages long. And then they did their markup. They went through the 942-page bill, they added amendments, and they voted up or down the Farm Bill. So, it was mostly a party line vote in the end, but four Democrats on the House Ag Committee ended up joining all Republicans to pass the bill. 

00:04:36 Lilly 

So, one half of Congress, the House of Representatives, now has a draft Farm Bill that's passed out of committee and is waiting to be introduced to the full floor at some point. Maybe. But the text of the bill itself, well, it isn't what we'd hoped for. 

00:04:56 Michael 

Yeah, it's definitely a mixed bag, but there are some pretty high-profile bad things in the bill. IATP recently released an article kind of outlining why it falls short, looking at kind of three key areas of climate, consolidation and community food systems. One of the biggest things you see in the Farm Bill is they took money from the Inflation Reduction Act for climate-smart agriculture, and they incorporated it into the baseline of the Farm Bill and that on its own is something that sounds good. It's something IATP has advocated for because it means that part of the $20 billion dedicated to conservation ag from the Inflation Reduction Act goes well into the future and you end up with more money for practices and styles of agriculture that we think are good for the climate. The bad part is this bill removed the climate guardrails from that funding. So instead of targeting it toward practices that do have a climate benefit, it's essentially opened up to any kind of practice that is eligible for programs, like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, 

00:06:09 Michael 

which we know not all those practices are climate smart, and it also takes it away from the four targeted conservation programs from the IRA that are popular with farmers and have climate benefits. Another major thing that the House Farm Bill does that we think is a pretty big negative is cutting the Thrifty Food Plan. Essentially what the bill does is over the course of 10 years cuts the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by about 30% and that's a lot of hungry people that will remain hungry and get hungrier over the course of those 10 years. 

00:06:45 Lilly 

So, the House bill weakens climate measures and effectively cuts SNAP at a time when hunger is on the rise in America. It also fails to deal with the corporate power and consolidation driving many of the problems in our food system. In fact, it does the opposite. Here's IATP's Ben Lilliston. 

00:07:08 Ben 

Well, there's definitely some elements in the in the House Farm Bill that almost appeared to have been written by agribusiness, and it may have been. The agribusiness itself really got pretty much everything they wanted in this collection of titles. The main thing that is sort of a linchpin of our food and farm system, the industrial system, is, you know, what's known as the “corn and soy complex,” which is just the massive amounts of corn and soy that we grow in this country. And this Farm Bill really increases spending for two key programs that really promote those crops. That's the commodity programs in Title 1. So it increases the spending and the spending limits, but also adds base acres into that, and base acres are acres of commodity crops that are eligible for certain subsidies. 

00:08:10 Lilly 

To clarify, this Farm Bill draft expands the number of base acres nationally that can be eligible for commodity program subsidies. 

00:08:19 Ben 

And by doing that, basically there are already an enormous amount of incentives for farmers to grow commodity crops, and by commodity crops, I mean corn, soy, wheat, cotton, rice — those are the key ones. But in particular, what the big companies are interested in is corn and soy. This is where the implement dealers make money (so, your John Deere and those folks). That's where the input companies make money, the pesticide/fertilizer companies, the seed companies, and then the big grain company (so your Cargills and ATMs) buy those crops and add value to them and sell them. And they may sell them to the big meat companies. So, in the factory farm system, cheap corn and soy and that feed is really important to the factory farm system. And that's what makes it profitable. So, the meat companies want to maintain those programs and expand them. And then there's the biofuel industry. So, corn ethanol or soy biodiesel. They not only kept the existing programs which we have, but they've sort of expanded them and created more incentives for farmers to grow those crops. So that's the big, you know, probably the single biggest victory they got in this. 

00:09:40 Ben 

But there's a couple of other things that are, I think, more specific but also really important. So, they included a provision that would override California's recent, what's known as Proposition 12, which requires basic animal welfare conditions for hogs and sows when they are birthing and in that period of time after they have their piglets. And California required that, you know, they were only going to sell pork from operations that that raise hogs under these types of conditions. And this Farm Bill, there's a provision in this bill that would override that Proposition 12 in California. Massachusetts is also looking at a similar type of bill. So, this is a big win for like Smithfield, JBS, Tyson, the companies that are big pork producers, and it’s kind of a loss for farmers and many producers who are already meeting those requirements. But they're going to override those state requirements in this House version of Farm Bill. 

00:10:46 Ben 

And they do something similar around pesticide application. A lot of states have their own rules around pesticide use, like certain protections that they put in place, so maybe around schools, maybe around a waterway, or to protect wildlife. So they're going to override those state-level requirements. So this is a big win for like Bayer or Crop Life or the big pesticide companies. And there's also a provision in there around labeling of pesticides and limiting states’ ability to provide sort of warning labels or cautions around the use of those pesticides because they're all toxic and they're all health risks. And this is something that Bayer really wanted because they're losing a number of lawsuits around their pesticide Roundup. So by kind of overriding these state labeling requirements and preempting them, that's a big win for Bayer. 

00:11:49 Ben 

They have a section in there around inserting precision agriculture into the conservation programs, and the term precision agriculture means generally, you know, use of new technology, often on tractors, to be more precise in how you're applying fertilizer or pesticide or where you're putting seeds on your field and that sort of thing. So this is a kind of big win for John Deere, right, now that some of the things that they provide could be eligible for conservation practices. And we would say real conservation requires actual different ways of farming, and that is much cheaper and doesn't require expensive equipment and is more around practices that embrace soil health and diversity on the farm and so forth. So that's another big win for a certain number of agribusiness firms. 

00:12:43 Ben 

And then I think I would say the last thing is they really have sort of pretended like competition issues don't exist, as if farmers are not being squeezed both on the front end when they buy their seeds or their inputs, but also in the market where they sell. And we know this is a key issue for farmers — consolidation in so many parts of the food system is really sort of a red flashing light. We see price fixing cases moving forward left and right. And this Farm Bill sort of says that doesn't even exist, we're not even going to address it. We're not going to add any resources to this issue. We're not going to try to dig into it and figure out how it's affecting farmers. So, I think that is opposed to the Senate bill, which does have some additional resources going in to try to protect farmers in a really highly consolidated marketplace. So that's another big win for these companies is to just to kind of ignore this consolidation issue and the impact it has on farmers. 

00:13:53 Lilly 

So, what comes next? 

00:13:56 Michael 

So, we're looking to see if Speaker Johnson brings the bill to the floor. There's not a whole lot of evidence that this bill would pass the full House. Certainly, a majority of Democrats would be opposed to this bill, but also, there's a sizable chunk of Republicans who would probably be opposed to this bill as well, especially on the House Rules Committee. There are a lot of people who are Republicans, who are deeply opposed to government spending. And it needs to pass through the Rules Committee before it goes to the full House. So, you could see some opposition there as well as on the full House floor. If it remains a mostly partisan bill, I don't think it'll end up passing. 

00:14:40 Michael 

But my hope is that people are serious about making positive changes to the bill. We're hopeful that the Senate bill has better provisions and that that's the base of negotiation going forward. So, the Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow released a pretty detailed framework about 100 pages long of what is in her bill. They have not released full bill text, but they've kind of gone title by title, program by program, saying, hey, we're going to incorporate, for example, funds from the Inflation Reduction Act into the baseline of the Farm Bill, but this time with the climate sideboard still intact. 

00:15:22 Lilly 

Here's Ben again. 

00:15:23 Ben 

They haven't held a markup yet in the Senate Ag Committee, so there's still opportunities to make the case for your priorities just as there has been, you know, over the last year and a half. It’s still very timely to be able to talk about how we need more programs addressing climate change in the Farm Bill, and it needs to be part of it, which is something IATP would say, we need more community food system resources. We need programs that really benefit farmers in the marketplace. Those are those types of issues still very relevant for the Senate side. 

00:16:01 Michael 

Yeah, it's. I mean, it's kind of unclear what comes next. Eyes are on leadership in the House to see if they bring the House Farm Bill to the floor, as they're on the Senate Agriculture Committee to see if they end up releasing a full bill or if, you know, there's more negotiations between the Dems and the Republicans there. There's a lot of pressure, right, because the bill expires on September 30 of this year. That's already an extension, and it's also really close to Election Day, when pressure will just be, you know, building and building. So will they be able to pass something before the election? Will they wait until after the election during the lame duck? Or will they pass it off to the next Congress? I don't know it's kind of unprecedented how like broken down the processes this year, but we've seen kind of similar trajectories and past Farm Bills where it starts out really partisan and then serious negotiating happens, and they passed a bill before an election or during the lame duck. So, I don't know. I don't have a crystal ball. 

00:17:11 Lilly 

So, the future of the Farm Bill remains in limbo, and overall, in terms of making major structural reforms that respond to the climate crisis, address corporate control and strengthen local food systems, it's not looking good. But our food system affects all of us, and even in the face of an uphill political battle, it's worth continuing to fight for a system that works well for all of us. 


If you enjoyed this podcast, please remember to subscribe and rate us on your preferred podcast platform and share the show with your friends. You can also check out our previous podcast series, Uprooted: Talking COP27, in the same feed. 


The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy works at the intersection of policy and practice to advance just, sustainable food systems. You can support our work at 


Filed under