Leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee reiterated their commitment to passing a new farm bill with strong bipartisan support that will meet the needs of farmers as well as low-income Americans who rely on nutrition assistance programs.
“Looking at the dollars that we're spending now and then what we need to get to where we need to go, I do think that we're going to need significantly more dollars" for the commodity title, Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member John Boozman said in an interview recorded for the Agri-Pulse Ag and Food Policy Summit on Monday.
Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said, “We’ve got to make sure that we don’t lose the budget that we have, because we have a baseline that’s basically a continuation [of the 2018 farm bill] other than in the area of conservation."
The Inflation Reduction Action provided additional funding for agriculture, including $5 billion for forestry, $18.5 billion for conservation and $13 billion for rural development. Those new dollars will be a a target for Republicans. “There will be an effort to bring some of that funding into this farm bill," said John Newton, chief economist for the committee's GOP staff. Newton was speaking on a panel at the summit.
The Congressional Budget Office farm bill projects that the farm bill will already cost more than $1.4 trillion over the next 10 years, compared to the $867 billion 10-year estimate at the enactment of the 2018 farm bill. Nutrition assistance saw a huge jump in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program costs due to the COVID-19 pandemic and an update of the Thrifty Food Plan, the assessment of food costs that is used as a basis for SNAP benefits.
“It's very important that we come together to support the nutrition programs and that we're not looking at cutting them, and I don't want to cut the commodity programs either,” said Stabenow.
Stabenow recognized that there are significant challenges for producers with higher input costs, but she said food insecurity still exists.
“I don’t support cutting the farm safety net any more than I support cutting the family safety net. So, I think we need to lock arms and make sure this is something that makes sense for everybody,” she said.
Boozman stopped short of saying Senate Republicans would leave nutrition programs alone.
"I'm not saying exactly what we do, but I'm certainly open to looking at it," he said. "And there's probably some areas that we need to plus-up. There's other areas we probably need to reduce."
Don’t miss a beat! It’s easy to sign up for a FREE month of Agri-Pulse news! For the latest on what’s happening in Washington, D.C. and around the country in agriculture, just click here.
Boozman and Stabenow said colleagues need to be educated on the importance of both food and nutrition programs.
“We’ve got to make the case for why it’s important to have a farm safety net, as well as a family safety net, and how we have a stake in people being successful in agriculture and food production. We have a stake in Americans being able to buy that food and not go hungry,” Stabenow said.
Stabenow added that SNAP provides an important economic driver in rural communities as well as providing nutrition assistance. Boozman added it is important to make sure that the safety nets for traditional farming and specialty crops are well represented and get changes to allow farmers to stay in business. If not, farmers are not going to be able to produce affordable, safe food.
Boozman said he and Stabenow are working in earnest to get a farm bill that has 90 or more votes on the Senate floor, more than the 87 seen in the last farm bill. Boozman said he believes there is a “real commitment” to get a farm bill done from the House and Senate and from both sides of the aisle.
“My message to agriculture is they need to stick together,” Boozman said. “We need to come up with something that we all can live with, and again, not a one-size fits all.”
For more news, visit www.Agri-Pulse.com.