2024 Farm Bill Battle: $1.4T at Stake in Ag Policy Overhaul

As the clock ticks towards the expiration of the 2018 Farm Bill, legislators in the House of Representatives and Senate have released three distinct proposals for the 2024 Farm Bill. These proposals, which are currently under consideration, address critical aspects of U.S. agriculture, including trade, credit, and research and extension programs. With a projected baseline budget of $1.4 trillion, the stakes are high, and the implications of these proposals are far-reaching.

The Trade title of the Farm Bill is pivotal in supporting agricultural export programs and international food assistance. All three proposals—the House Proposal, the Senate Majority Proposal, and the Senate Minority Proposal—aim to bolster U.S. agricultural exports. Each proposal increases funding for export promotion programs, such as the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Cooperator Program. However, the Senate Majority Proposal goes a step further by also increasing funding for the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops program and the Priority Trade Fund. These programs are essential for enhancing access to foreign markets and reducing trade barriers for U.S. agricultural products.

Significantly, the proposals also seek to amend the Food for Peace Program, which provides global food assistance. The proposed amendments include reserving a specified percentage of funds for procuring U.S.-grown commodities and covering ocean shipping costs. Both Senate proposals would also redefine agricultural commodities to include specialized nutrition products, such as ready-to-use therapeutic foods, which are vital for treating severe acute malnutrition in children. Additionally, the Senate Majority Proposal mandates that at least eighteen percent of Food for Peace funding be allocated to non-emergency food assistance, emphasizing food distribution, education, and community development.

The proposals also tackle the issue of reducing trade barriers and infrastructure deficiencies. For instance, the House Proposal directs the USDA to secure foreign markets for goods using common names, like parmesan and bologna, preventing unfair trade practices under the guise of protecting geographical indications. Both Senate proposals amend the Food for Progress program to prohibit the USDA from awarding all program funding to a single entity, ensuring a more equitable distribution of resources.

Turning to the Credit title, the proposals aim to enhance financial support for farmers and ranchers through direct and guaranteed loans. They propose increasing loan limits across various loan types and allowing distressed guaranteed loans to be refinanced into direct loans. The Senate proposals also suggest that specified loan funds be used for adopting precision agriculture practices, which could revolutionize farming efficiency and sustainability.

The proposals further aim to expand access to the Farm Credit System for beginner and disadvantaged farmers. The House and Senate Majority Proposals simplify eligibility for farm ownership loans, allowing individuals with one year of farming experience or a mentor relationship to qualify. The Senate Majority Proposal also removes restrictions on new Farm Service Agency loans for applicants who have received debt forgiveness or loan restructuring, provided at least seven years have passed.

Commercial lenders are not left out either. The proposals authorize Farm Credit institutions to partner with community banks and other lenders to finance essential community facilities in rural areas, such as healthcare centers and emergency services. The House Proposal also seeks to expand access to the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation for some guaranteed energy loans, potentially boosting rural energy infrastructure.

Additionally, the Senate Majority Proposal expands eligibility for state agricultural mediation programs, allowing U.S. Territories and Indian Tribes to receive grants and increasing the funding each state can receive. This expansion could provide crucial support for agricultural producers and their lenders, facilitating more effective resolution of disputes.

As Congress deliberates these proposals, the future of U.S. agriculture hangs in the balance. The decisions made in the coming months will shape the agricultural landscape for years to come, impacting farmers, ranchers, and consumers alike.

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