Every farm bill has its own set of challenges but writing the 2023 farm bill could be made more difficult with so many relatively new members of Congress expecting to make policy changes. At least that’s the consensus from two former staff members of the Senate Agriculture Committee who spoke at the Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau (CIRB) annual meeting in Florida on Friday.

James Glueck, vice president with the Torrey Advisory Group and a former GOP staff director on Senate Ag, noted that two-thirds of the House Ag Committee's membership wasn't involved in writing the 2018 farm bill, along with about half the Senate Ag Committee.

“The biggest threat is the expectation of what is possible in a new farm bill,” says Joe Shultz, a longtime staff member for Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow who is now executive director of the Platform for Agriculture and Climate Transformation.

He sees parallels with the 2012 farm bill cycle (which turned into the 2014 farm bill) when there was a Democrat in the White House, a Senate controlled by Democrats and the House controlled by Republicans.

“There were very high expectations in the House Republican caucus about their ability to change farm policy and what farm bills look like,” Shultz said and that “led us into several challenging situations," starting with the 2011 supercommittee process and a resulting agreement to cut $23 billion out of the farm bill.

Shultz worries that the 2023 farm bill could also be part of another budget cutting exercise – more likely in the House than the Senate. He pointed out that crop insurance is the second largest farm bill title in terms of spending, after the nutrition title and “that means it’s a target.”

He suggested that there could be a scenario when the Senate completes a farm bill this year, but the House does not.

Glueck said he expects, especially on the House side, to see more of a focus on innovation, technology and science in a new farm bill, given the “pretty radical” changes we’ve seen in the agri-food space in the last four to five years. He suggested that the way Chairman Glenn Thompson reorganized the House Ag subcommittees reflects his desire to have conversations about innovation and technology embedded in policy discussions.

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“I think it’s a theme that could resonate in a very bipartisan fashion,” he said.

Glueck and Shultz agreed that the subject of climate change will undoubtedly come up, albeit in different terms. Shultz said there was a lot of climate policy built into the 2018 farm bill but it was not called “climate.”

“There were code words that were used like ‘extreme weather’, ‘soil health’ or ‘resiliency’ but all of those things were driving climate mitigation or resilience.

Shultz said the first line of defense for anyone worried about extreme weather is the federal crop insurance program and it’s a “huge investment in climate adaptation and resiliency.”

“We've never talked about crop insurance that way, but it really is,” he emphasized.

A key part of the process involves figuring out how much farm bill funding will be available. Glueck noted the Congressional Budget Office will release new baseline estimates next Wednesday.

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