116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Iowa’s representatives in Congress are starting to hear from constituents on priorities for the next farm bill, a broad package of agricultural policy that is up for renewal next year.
Both U.S. Republican senators from Iowa and two U.S. House representatives — Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne and Republican Rep. Randy Feenstra — sit on their respective agriculture committees, giving them a key presence as Congress writes the next farm bill.
The last farm bill, passed in 2018, is set to expire in September 2023. The package included funding and programs addressing crops and livestock, nutrition, forestry and research.
Axne said in an email that farmers and others at a recent round table she held said they are interested in keeping in place crop insurance and other safety net programs, as well as increasing regional processing options for livestock producers.
“I’ve worked on many of these issues during my time in Congress and look forward to supporting them in the upcoming farm bill.”
Axne said she’d like to see more conservation and climate action items in the next farm bill, incentivizing farmers to take part in carbon sequestering and greenhouse gas reduction.
“As we look to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and sequester more carbon, there is significant opportunity for American agriculture to be a global leader in developing those markets and practices,” she said.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley said beyond maintaining crop insurance for farmers, he’d like to see a boost in funding for agriculture research added to next year’s bill.
“It seems to me that with 9 billion people on the face of this earth, we've fallen behind on agricultural research. … As a percentage of the total amount of federal dollars that go into research, agriculture is really flagging,” he told reporters last week.
In a statement, Feenstra said farmers in his district have asked for more transparency in the cattle market, expanded access to foreign markets and strong safety net protections.
“In the months ahead, I will continue to meet with our farmers, producers, and their families to discuss their priorities in the farm bill,” he said.
What is the farm bill?
The farm bill is a comprehensive bill reauthorized roughly every five years that funds a range of programs that affect agriculture and food.
Two of the major and consistent provisions in previous farm bills have been crop insurance and nutrition assistance for low-income Americans in the form of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps.
Crop insurance provides repayment to farmers for adverse events like droughts, natural disasters and disease. The 2020 derecho in Iowa that leveled farms across the state was one such case, where farmers received $343.3 million from the program, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Nutrition assistance made up about three quarters of the 2018 farm bill’s total $428 billion in spending over five years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
One question looming is the fate of SNAP benefits. With Republicans favored by election analysts to win control of the House this November, changes could be on the table.
In 2018, spurred on by the House Freedom Caucus, House Republicans’ version of the farm bill included stricter work requirements for food assistance, restricting who was eligible and requiring recipients to work 20 hours a week or enroll in a job training program.
The final law didn’t include these provisions after a compromise with the Senate. Axne said she’s concerned about efforts to cut SNAP in the next iteration of the bill.
“Beyond it being the right thing, studies have shown that SNAP benefits generate a positive economic return and help our farmers,” she said. “I’ll fight for a robust nutrition title that supports growers and ensures Iowa families don’t go hungry.”
Feenstra did not answer a question about whether he would support stricter work requirements for SNAP benefits.
What do Iowa’s ag groups want?
The Iowa Farmers Union, part of a national group that advocates for independent and family farmers, has begun holding forums with members about what they’re looking for in the next farm bill.
Iowa Farmers Union President Aaron Heley Lehman said after two years in a pandemic that upended supply chains and agricultural markets, the organization is not looking for a “status quo” farm bill.
The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation has not yet set its policy priorities for the next year, communications director Andrew Wheeler said. During a September policy meeting, the bureau will lay out policy goals that include its interest in the next farm bill.
Lehman said Iowa Farmers Union members are hoping the safety net programs, which help cover losses when commodity prices drop, are bolstered. While farmers currently are getting high prices for crops, input prices like fertilizer are “through the roof,” he said.
Lehman echoed Feenstra’s concerns about more transparency in the cattle market and other agriculture markets. He said the Farmers Union will advocate for a competition portion of the farm bill, which has not been included in the past.
With only a handful of businesses controlling large shares of sectors like beef processing, Lehman said small-scale farmers often don’t get a fair shake when selling their products like cattle.
These concerns have already hit the federal level: President Joe Biden in January launched a $1 billion campaign to bolster independent meat processing plants, and two bills aimed at curbing the cattle consolidation introduced by Grassley recently passed in the Senate Agriculture Committee.
But Lehman said he wanted to see those regulations made permanent with the farm bill.
“Those monopolies will lead to fewer choices, less innovation and higher prices for consumers and will eat away at profit margins for farmers,” he said.