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After much anticipation, the House of Representatives released a Farm Bill, nearly eight months behind schedule.

In August of 2023, as the 2018 Farm Bill was near its expiration, IATP published an article called “The bill is due: Congress has one month to write a fair Farm Bill.” In this article, we laid out three ways we hoped the Farm Bill would support farmers and eaters alike, including the areas of climate, competition and community food systems. 

Congress did not write a Farm Bill last fall, and instead, the 2018 bill was extended for one year to September 2024. Last week, the House Agriculture Committee released its Farm Bill text: Let’s see how it measures up to our expectations. 

Helping Farmers Respond to Climate Change

House Committee on Agriculture Chair Glenn Thompson’s section-by-section released on May 10 mentioned climate just once, in reference to removing the climate targeting from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) while incorporating its remaining funds into the Farm Bill baseline. While the bill’s text mentions climate a few more times, it still falls woefully short of where a Farm Bill should be as climate change increasingly threatens our food system.

Extending the IRA’s funding permanently into the future is an important step in building resilience across our food and farm system. Without this funding incorporated into the Farm Bill baseline, the $19.5 billion allocated for conservation through the IRA would disappear after 2031. While some of the IRA money has been spent already, the House proposal takes the remainder and places it in the permanent floor of Farm Bill funding, meaning it will be harder to take away in the future. However, it is not enough to simply incorporate the funding into the baseline. The funding must be targeted toward the farming practices and systems that will make a dent in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and climate-proof our farms as droughts, floods, heavy rains, heavy winds, wildfires and other climate-fueled disasters pick up steam. 

As IATP has shown through a series of reports, key farm conservation programs remain underfunded and oversubscribed, especially the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Chair Thompson’s plan dilutes the climate-targeted funds from the IRA, extends the funds to other programs and even creates a new forest easement program. While funding for these programs may have merit, it should not come at the expense of proven conservation programs that are enormously popular with farmers. 

Additionally, the House Farm Bill reinstates a requirement that 50% of funds for EQIP go to livestock operations, a requirement that was wisely excluded from the IRA.. This 50% requirement leads to an outsized share of conservation dollars going toward practices that prop up factory farms with high emissions and little environmental benefit. These practices include expensive waste lagoons and anaerobic digesters. 

The bill also punishes states and localities that implement climate-friendly policies. If this bill becomes law, state and local governments will neither be able to require labeling on the harms of pesticides. The production and application of chemical pesticides is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and can lead to environmental degradation, decreasing the resilience of our land and water to climate. Additionally, states are not allowed to set rules on how animals can be raised in other states to be sold as meat. The provision, designed to overturn California’s Proposition 12 governing the treatment of hog sows, is a win for the factory farm system of production and a loss for farmers who are already meeting, or transitioning to meet, these basic animal welfare requirements. 

 There are just a few provisions in the bill that recognize the effects of climate change. The bill prioritizes climate resilience in awarding grants under the Water Source Protection Program, which is necessary in an era when climate change stresses our water resources. The bill also promotes information sharing on the impacts of climate to nurseries and reforestation, an important aspect of combating climate change and mitigating its effects. Lastly, the bill includes a State Assistance for Soil Health program, including prioritization of assistance to states where soil health is a component of their climate action plan. While we support the intent of this program, unfortunately, Chair Thompson's Farm Bill takes money from CSP, which needs all the funding it can get to assist farmers with conservation needs on their farms. We believe this program should draw its funding from a different source, such as the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), which does not have the same oversubscription troubles facing CSP. 

Restoring Competition

As it stands, the agricultural marketplace remains one of the most concentrated sectors. Only a handful of companies dominate the beef, seeds, poultry, equipment, grocery stores industries and many other nodes of the food system. Such a concentrated marketplace disadvantages farmers and consumers alike, leading to low prices and high costs for farmers and high prices for consumers, enriching those companies in the middle. Despite this skewed market, the House Farm Bill completely ignores the issue. 

In many cases, the bill actively stacks the deck for large corporations. This bill facilitates vertical integration by allowing feedlot owners to also be meatpackers if they slaughter under 2,000 cattle per day or 10,000 hogs per day. The bill does recognize the supply chain bottleneck of meat processing and creates a new grant program that prioritizes small processors, but in a market controlled by multinationals such as JBS, Smithfield and Tyson, it will be challenging for smaller processors to compete.

The bill also reinforces current policy that drives consolidation in farmland ownership by allowing the largest operations (those with adjusted gross incomes above $900,000 per year) to access farm subsidies, something they are restricted from doing under current law. It also places a new focus on precision agriculture within the conservation and research titles of the bill, potentially creating new and expensive ways of diverting public dollars to the big equipment companies, such as John Deere, instead of more resilient farms. 

To address competition across the entire food and farm system, a Farm Bill title on competition is needed (something for which IATP has long advocated). The title would include additional resources to enforce stronger competition protections (like the Packers and Stockyards rules), mandatory Country-of-Origin-Labeling (COOL) for meat, requiring greater price transparency in livestock markets and tougher scrutiny of new mergers. The lack of competition is not a siloed issue — it affects all parts of our food system by driving farmers off the land and small businesses out of town, as well as sending prices for consumers through the roof.  

Community Food Systems and Nutrition

Perhaps the most controversial provisions of the House Farm Bill are those that would harm the nation’s hungry. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, the House Farm Bill would amount to a 30% cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over 10 years. In a time when families are paying more for food and hunger remains stubbornly high, this cut to nutrition ignores the needs of millions of people in the United States. 

Chair Thompson’s cuts to nutrition are a response to the 2021 update to the Thrifty Food Plan as a result of President Biden’s Covid Economic Relief Executive Order. While Chair Thompson believes this order was executive overreach and took power away from Congress, this update increased the purchasing power of millions of Americans at a time when such relief was sorely needed. Our nutrition programs need to be able to respond to changing economic conditions, diet guidance and other factors that affect how people eat. The nation’s hungry are not simply numbers on a page, but people trying to make ends meet. In fact, people in rural communities are likelier to experience hunger than those in urban communities. For a comprehensive approach to healthy rural communities, robust nutrition assistance needs to be front and center. 

While the House Farm Bill contains some provisions addressing the shortage of local food infrastructure such as small-scale meat processing, it fails to address the larger policies that have disadvantaged local foods for decades. As the supply chain challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic showed, industry’s definition of “efficiency” is not always the most efficient and can be the most brittle in times of crisis. A more resilient, community-centered Farm Bill would include proposals such as the Local Farms and Food Act and the Farm System Reform Act. Instead of crafting policy to support stronger regional food systems that kept people fed during the pandemic, the bill proposed by the House embraces a vulnerable food system controlled by big food companies at nearly every step.   

What happens next?

Chair Thompson’s Farm Bill in its current form will justifiably struggle to gain passage in the House. This bill does not seriously address the most pressing issues in our food system today — keeping people fed, addressing the climate crisis and keeping our markets fair. On May 23, the House Agriculture Committee will consider amendments during its markup of the bill, and if passed, it will move to the House floor for a full vote. In its current form, the House Farm Bill doesn’t reflect the reality of farming and eating in 2024 and should be rejected.