Congress is currently debating farm and food policy legislation commonly referred to as the farm bill. The U.S. Senate’s version, called the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 was passed in June. In concurrent legislation, the U.S. House failed to pass their version of the 2013 farm bill. In July the House did pass a variation of the bill that was defeated in June, however, that legislation did not include a food and nutrition title. In September, the House passed a separate food and nutrition bill. A subsequent House resolution combined portions of both House bills in an attempt to reconcile their proposed legislation with the Senate’s bill.

One difference between the Senate and House bills is on spending for food and nutrition programs. Formally called food stamps, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is reauthorized but faces cuts in both pieces of legislation. The Senate’s farm bill calls for approximately $3.9 billion in cuts (savings) to SNAP. The House version requires cuts of $39 billion over ten years (a reduction of 5.1%).

Both chambers also propose cuts to agriculture (non-nutrition) programs; the Senate proposes cuts of $13.9 billion and the House $12.9 billion. To facilitate these savings both bills call for the elimination of direct payments to farmers producing covered commodities. (These direct commodity payments account for most commodity program spending.) Both pieces of legislation also propose revising counter-cyclical price support payments (and renaming them Adverse Market Payments). Both bills reauthorize various disaster assistance and crop insurance programs. Marketing assistance loans are also continued in both bills.

The farm bill is the primary legal framework that directs agricultural and food policy at the national level. Administered by the USDA, the farm bill has grown over time to become omnibus legislation that now includes programs for food and nutrition, commodity marketing, conservation, rural development, international trade, energy, crop insurance, and agricultural research.

Legislative activity involving federal agricultural and food policy occurs once every five years. The current farm bill, called the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 was set to expire in 2012. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 extended most of the provisions of the 2008 farm bill through the end of 2013.

The House and Senate are now conferencing the farm bill. This process involves the formation of a committee of senators and representatives whose task is to resolve differences between the two chambers in regard to the farm bill. The committee is working to find common ground before Congress recesses on December 13.

Source: Kim Dillivan