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Most of us were fast asleep in the early hours of May 24 when the House Agriculture Committee approved its version of the Farm Bill. But not big agribusiness lobbyists, who surely celebrated into the morning after seeing their top priorities included in the bill. The agribusiness lobby showed once again why it is considered one of the most powerful on Capitol Hill.

Farm Bill politics is often reported as a scoreboard win or loss for farmers or the nation’s hungry or the environment. The dizzying cross section of interests advocating on more than a dozen titles often turns the Farm Bill process into an endurance test, leaving many members of Congress happy just to get it over the finish line (never mind whether it is good policy). Within this exhausting, drawn-out and increasingly secretive policymaking environment, corporate lobbyists with deep resources thrive. The Farm Bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee showcases agribusiness’ Beltway power.

The Farm Bill journey is far from over. It still needs to be approved by the full House, and the Senate Agriculture Committee has yet to weigh in (though the Senate’s detailed summary is more promising than the House bill). Yet, the House Agriculture Committee has set the initial bar for negotiation. Here are five major wins for big agribusiness in the House Agriculture Committee Farm Bill.

1. Cementing the corn/soy complex

The massive production of corn (90 million acres) and soybeans (86 million acres) benefits multiple agribusiness sectors. Farm implement, seed, pesticide, fertilizer and crop insurance companies benefit from the corn/soy complex in the planting phase. Grain, meat, poultry, dairy and biofuel companies depend on these crops for feedstocks. The House Farm Bill further locks in the corn/soy complex and takes steps to expand it.

The House Farm Bill expands spending on corn, soy and other commodity crops by increasing reference prices between 10-20% under commodity programs (when the market dips below the reference price, subsidies kick in) by an estimated $31 billion. The bill includes a chance for farmers to update and add base acres to their operations, making more acres eligible for commodity programs. Payment limits would also increase from $125,000 to $155,000 for commodity crop farmers. For crop insurance, the House Committee bill increases premium support to 80%. Added together, these programs further incentivize the overproduction of commodity crops, such as corn and soy, which often pushes market prices below the cost production. While these programs keep some farmers afloat, the big winners are input and implement companies and the global grain and meat companies. Last year, the Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment published a report outlining an alternative approach to commodity programs that focuses on ensuring a fair price in the market for farmers and limiting the overproduction of these crops.

2. Squashing state rules on factory farms and pesticides

Several states have agriculture requirements that are stronger than federal rules. Big pork and pesticide companies want the Farm Bill to override state-level rules that impact their business. The House Farm Bill would override Proposition 12 passed in California that requires basic animal welfare protections for the treatment of hog sows if the resulting pork is sold in California. The House bill says states cannot limit meat and poultry products produced in other states by placing stipulations on how those animals are raised. If the provision remains in the final Farm Bill, it would be a victory for the big pork companies, such as Smithfield, that rely on the current factory farm system of pork production and a loss for the many producers and pork companies that already comply with these basic requirements and have invested in expanding their markets into California.  

In a favor to the pesticide industry and its trade association CropLife, the House Farm Bill would also override state and local authorities by limiting their right to regulate pesticides. Under current law, states and local governments can go beyond federal safety requirements to limit the use of pesticides to better reflect local conditions and risks. Hundreds of laws at the town, county and state-level limit the use of certain pesticides near vulnerable areas, such as schools, parks, playgrounds and other areas that might affect drinking water. Others require more labeling information for farmers and farmworkers to understand health risks associated with a pesticide’s use, including the widely used Roundup, the subject of multiple health-related lawsuits against chemical giant Bayer. The House bill would preempt those state and local requirements, letting only the federal standard stand. IATP joined other groups in opposing this pesticide regulation preemption.  

3. More corporate welfare for exporters

The House bill doubles the money going to the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Program to promote agricultural exports that benefit, among others, multinational traders such as ADM, Cargill, JBS, Smithfield and Tyson. The free trade agenda adopted by the U.S., particularly since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), has allowed global agribusiness to set up operations around the world more easily, creating a race-to-the-bottom global marketplace for farmers. The current Farm Bill, and the new House bill, are dependent on export markets to sop up over-produced crops, meat and dairy. While global food traders have benefited greatly from this system, the most recent U.S. Agriculture Census tells the other side of the story: the loss of hundreds of thousands of farms accompanied by more consolidated ownership of farm operations.  

The House Farm Bill also makes changes in how international food aid is delivered, favoring multinational grain companies. The House bill requires at least 50% of international food aid come from the U.S., rather than focusing resources on regional purchases that can support resilience-building efforts to strengthen food systems in parts of the world facing hunger. Interaction estimates that the House changes will make food aid delivery more costly, with longer delivery times shipping from the U.S., reaching 2.3 million fewer hungry people. This approach to food aid has been highly criticized for being inefficient, while serving as a subsidy for global grain traders. IATP reported nearly 20 years ago about the need to redirect international food aid toward regional purchasing, reflecting the latest research and on-the-ground experience of food aid organizations.  

4. Steering conservation and government-backed loans to benefit agribusiness

The House Agriculture Committee moved climate-focused funding from the Inflation Reduction Act into the conservation title of the Farm Bill, but it removed requirements that spending must respond to climate change. The move also reinstated a requirement that 50% of spending for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) go to livestock. IATP has reported that too much of EQIP’s resources go to the factory farm system, while closing out farmers wanting to implement agroecological practices. The House Farm Bill directs more conservation dollars to “precision agriculture,” a marketing term largely understood as the use of industry-created technology to better target pesticides, fertilizer and planting decisions. The House Agriculture Committee allows precision agriculture costs (with up to a 90% cost share) to be eligible for under-funded conservation programs like EQIP, again siphoning off valuable conservation resources to benefit farm input and implement companies.

The House Farm Bill also expands the limit for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) guaranteed loans from $1.75 million to $3.5 million, without raising the total funding authorization. Once again, larger operations will have an opportunity to access more of a share of limited farm credit resources. New or expanding factory farms often struggle to get traditional financing because they are seen as a risk by traditional banks. That’s when they turn to the USDA’s guaranteed loan program. The USDA is secretive about loan distribution, but research and freedom of information requests suggest that a considerable portion finances factory farms producing for the big meat and poultry companies. The House Agriculture Committee expanded the limit on USDA guaranteed loans, without guardrails, enabling more federal resources to go toward factory farm expansion.  

5. No action to address unfair markets

The House Bill completely ignores one of the biggest issues facing farmers: the squeeze of big agribusiness on both sides of their bottom line. Seed and input suppliers dictate farmer costs, and a concentrated market of buyers — whether in beef, pork, poultry or grains — sets the prices that farmers receive. The House Bill makes no attempt to address price gouging by food companies, provide mandatory Country-of-Origin-Labeling, restrict corporate ownership of farmland, create more accountability for checkoff programs or add resources to USDA to investigate unfair market practices in the meat industry. Despite a host of bills designed to restore market fairness in agriculture, the House bill catered to agribusiness lobbyists by dropping these proposals entirely.  

Agribusiness lobbyists won the first round of the fight over the next Farm Bill, but the legislation must still clear the full House and begin its journey through the Senate. There are still opportunities for reform within this highly charged political environment, where passing any Farm Bill this year remains uncertain. The current Farm Bill already highly favors agribusiness interests, and we’ve seen the damaging results. In round two, we’ll see whether a different path for the Farm Bill is possible. 

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