Editor’s Desk: The Farm Bill Fight, a special series with Mother Jones

Illustration by Delphine Lee

By Theodore Ross

This week we kicked off a special series, in partnership with Mother Jones, weighing in on the country’s most important – and most intractable – food system legislation: the farm bill.

The 2023 omnibus law, which costs upwards of $100 billion a year and which governs food stamps and most aspects of the U.S. agricultural system, was supposed to be in place by October 1. But Congress couldn’t pass a new version, trapped in partisan dysfunction and also a deeper, perhaps more contentious debate about what the bill ought to be—a debate that has become ensnared in the nation’s culture wars. Racial equity, food sovereignty, protections for workers, and meaningful action on climate change now compete with the bill’s traditional mandate of growing food and feeding hungry people.

The first two articles in the series take on these issues directly:

Tom Philpott, a senior researcher at the John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, asks why the federal government doesn’t push farmers to use environmental conservation practices by leveraging the massive subsidies they receive. “For every dollar the department flashes in front of farmers to encourage them to grow to the max,” Philpott writes, “it dangles just 13 cents to help them manage their land judiciously.” The farm bill could – and should – change that.

Lee Drutman and Dustin Wahl, co-founders of Fix Our House, look at the ways congressional dysfunction has brought movement on “must-pass” bills to a halt. “The farm bill was once an example of bipartisan bonhomie in Washington,” they write. Not anymore. And with no new farm bill in sight, and a brutal presidential election looming, the pressure to get something done is ramping up.
This series will be running through February. Check it out on our website, or at Mother Jones.