Billions in taxpayer dollars could be saved over the next decade if the 2023 Farm Bill puts a cap on federal subsidies paid to farmers who purchase crop insurance, according to a special report published Tuesday by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC).
Congress would dismember the farm bill if it adopted the ideas proposed by the conservative Republican Study Committee, whose membership includes four of every five Republicans in the House. In a budget package, the RSC said it would sever public nutrition programs from the farm bill, eradicate major farm supports and slash federal support of crop insurance.
Nearly one in 10 people worldwide suffer from hunger, an increase of 150 million since the pandemic struck in 2020, and the numbers are sure to worsen, said the annual UN hunger report on Wednesday. “The global price spikes that we are seeing as a result of the crisis in Ukraine threaten to push countries around the world into famine,” said the leader of the World Food Program.
Congress traditionally enacts the farm policy bills covering the gamut from crop subsidies to food stamps at the urging of a coalition of farm, conservation and anti-hunger groups. A former USDA official said the 2023 farm bill could be in peril if there is a repetition of the political turbulence that temporarily derailed the omnibus legislation twice in the eight years.
Three months ago, the Senate Agriculture Committee recommended Senate approval of Robert Bonnie to run the USDA's farm subsidy and land stewardship programs, which cost more than $10 billion a year. The nomination is set for a floor vote next week, after a series of delays forced by senators who put "holds" on it.
Farmers and ranchers have received nearly $30.6 billion in coronavirus relief payments in the past 17 months, according to USDA data released on Monday. Pandemic assistance is a major element in farm income this year, as it was in 2020, and is projected to equal one-fourth of net farm income.
When crop insurance indemnities and unemployment benefits are counted, the government sent $57.7 billion to farm operations and farm households in 2020, while the pandemic sent the U.S. economy into recession, said a working paper by USDA economists. It was the highest estimate yet of federal assistance to farmers last year and the most inclusive.
The USDA would be obliged to disclose the race and gender of farm subsidy recipients as well as how much money they received under companion bills filed by two Black members of the House and Senate Agriculture committees on Wednesday.
The Senate Agriculture Committee will vote on Thursday, Earth Day, on a retooled bill that would make it easier for farmers and foresters to earn money for locking carbon into the soil and trees, said chairwoman Debbie Stabenow. A sponsor of the legislation, Stabenow said language was strengthened to assure farmers, rather than investors or middlemen, receive the revenue for climate mitigation.
U.S. ethanol production plunged 13 percent last year due to the pandemic, costing the industry around $4 billion in sales. But it may recover fully by 2023, on the strength of larger exports and rising domestic use of higher blends of ethanol into gasoline, said the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute.
Farmers expect to be paid for climate mitigation, and not at the expense of the traditional farm subsidies, said the president of the largest U.S. farm group during a discussion of President Biden's goal of an agriculture sector that achieves net-zero emission of greenhouse gases by 2050. Other ag leaders on the panel organized by USDA agreed there must be a financial payoff for the voluntary, incentive-based practices espoused by the administration to succeed.
The Biden administration appointed Gloria Montano Greene and Zach Ducheneaux as top officials overseeing the USDA's farm subsidy and land stewardship programs, effective Monday.
The government will help farmers mitigate climate change by paying them to "put their land in conservation" and plant cover crops, said President-elect Biden, providing some details on his campaign call to offset greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. The sector accounts for roughly 10 percent of emissions nationwide.
The final coronavirus aid package of the year would direct 3 percent of its $900 billion in funding to food assistance and relief for agricultural producers, according to its Democratic and Republican sponsors. "It's a deal that must come together," said one of the sponsors, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, on Sunday.
Farm income recovered this summer from the steep coronavirus-driven declines of last spring, according to ag bankers in the Plains and Midwest who took part in Federal Reserve surveys. "An influx of government payments and higher prices for agricultural commodities provided greater support for farm finances in the third quarter and seemed to limit demand for financing," said a summary by two Kansas City Fed economists.
In a reversal, the USDA said on Wednesday that family-run farms are not subject to a rule that tightens eligibility standards for crop subsidies — the opposite of what it announced three months ago. A small-farm advocate criticized the "correction," which applies to the bulk of U.S. farms, as a violation of the rule-making process and encouraged the incoming Biden administration to void it.
In just three weeks, the USDA sent $4.52 billion to farmers and ranchers through its new coronavirus relief program, data released on Tuesday show. More than $4 of every $10 disbursed by the so-called CFAP2 went to corn and soybean growers, concentrated in the Midwest.
The average USDA coronavirus relief payment to farmers is less than $16,000 but the biggest operators are getting payments that are 22-times larger, said an environmental group on Tuesday in questioning the fairness of the $10 billion program. Meanwhile, lawmakers agreed to give more funding to the USDA so it can keep farm supports flowing.