One piece of legislation has had as profound an impact on America as thousands of other bills combined, yet very few people are familiar with it. I’m referring to the farm bill, which ensures a safe and abundant food supply, helps feed the hungry, invigorates rural communities and helps farmers take care of the environment.
As I travel the country, it’s clear the farm bill has had a broad, visible impact. Family farms able to be passed to the next generation because of USDA’s numerous risk management tools and programs. Families able to put dinner on the table thanks to nutrition assistance programs. Soil and water improvements because of land enrolled in conservation programs. Rural communities back in the game thinks to broadband grants and new business loans authorized by the farm bill. Soon it will be time to refresh and renew this nearly 100-year-old law, so let’s examine its history and relevance today.
Those who helped craft the first farm bill in 1933 laid the groundwork for protecting our nation’s food supply for generations to come. For example, they created the Commodity Credit Corporation, a program that’s still in use today. Thanks to that first farm bill, many of America’s farmers and ranchers survived the Great Depression and were equipped to feed our country as we entered World War II, giving us the ability to provide food security which is part of our national security.
In 1938, the next farm bill was the beginning of federal crop insurance, which remains a critical lifeline for many farmers and ranchers. This tool has continued to evolve to help farmers endure the devastating impacts of natural disasters and unpredictable markets. Congress has increased access and incentives to help farmers—across crops and regions—to protect their businesses. And in recent years, crop insurance has shifted to be more market-based, with the private sector now able to help create new insurance products.
In the 1970s, the farm bill was first combined with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which provides vital support to those who need help feeding themselves and their families. Combining farm programs and nutrition programs in one piece of legislation makes sense because ensuring we have an abundant domestic supply of food and that it is accessible creates a more food secure nation, which is critical to national security. Farmers and ranchers work hard to provide the food America needs, and the nutrition programs help ensure that what we grow gets to those who need it.
Congress cast the net wider that same decade by including a rural development title that has helped expand rural utilities, which has evolved to include broadband internet, and supported rural businesses and housing initiatives. There are rural communities thriving across the countryside today that were aided or saved by farm bill rural development programs.
Just as agriculture changes and adapts to meet the needs of the time, so does the farm bill. Every five years or so, Congress passes a new farm bill to meet the challenges of an ever-changing landscape and ensure that critical programs continue to work for farmers and ranchers, families on a budget, and rural communities working to stay competitive.
Hearings on the 2023 farm bill started in Congress this year. At Farm Bureau, we began our work last year, recognizing how essential it was to be ready to offer ideas. In August, our farm bill working group started meeting to discuss what’s working under the 2018 farm bill, what’s not working, and what’s missing altogether. Their analysis will help members across the country at the county, state and national levels adopt Farm Bureau policy, which serves as a roadmap for us to engage with Congress. It’s critical work as we advocate for a farm bill that helps us combat the challenges we face today and those we will undoubtedly face in the future. It is our responsibility to engage with members of Congress from urban districts, too, who may not understand how farm bill programs impact all families, from our biggest cities to our smallest townships.
The door to engage these members has been opened even wider by the growing public realization that our food supply must not be taken for granted. The farm bill is one of the mightiest tools to protect it. I hope you’ll engage in discussions about its significance. You, our grassroots members, are agriculture’s most influential advocates. We will need your help to ensure this powerful legislation continues to stand the test of time.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.