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Lawmakers prepare for farm bill battle

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Casey Harper

(The Center Square) – The last U.S. major spending package on agricultural issues, known as the “farm bill,” is set to expire in September. Lawmakers and interest groups are already wrangling to legislate the new major funding bill as the deadline approaches.

The bill, which passed in 2018 is set to largely expire September 30 of this year. The new authorization will likely include spending on environmental and climate issues, trade, possibly topping a trillion dollars.

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“With so many new members of Congress that have never gone through a Farm Bill process before, it’s important that farmers and ranchers connect with lawmakers to help them understand how important and wide-ranging the impacts of the Farm Bill are,” Matt Hargreaves from the Utah Farm Bureau Federation, said. “And it’s really more than ‘just’ a farm bill, as it impacts nutrition for many in critical need, it represents national security by ensuring a safe and affordable domestic food supply.”

Experts expect the bill to last about 5 years, though a one-year extension would be possible as well, especially if lawmakers are unable to strike a deal and want to push the issue down the road. However, that would also put the vote close to election day, something many lawmakers will not be inclined to do. 

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"One of the things I'm hearing from farmers is we need a five-year farm bill, not a one-year extension," Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

Sen. Grassley said he tells farmers that it is on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's agenda. 

"Farmers need certainty," he added.

Former President Donald Trump signed the farm bill in 2018, the “Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018” which reauthorized nearly $900 billion in spending.

The farm bill is a sweeping piece of legislation covering a range of technical issues and specified grant programs, and more. Hargreaves raised of few of the Utah Bureau’s key priorities, including a push to reinstate the U.S. Department of Agriculture Risk Management Agency risk protection insurance for the lamb industry.

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He also raised rural broadband, environmental issues as well as increased funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)” and “provisions to support more active management of our national forests and funding and tools to eradicate invasive species.”

These priorities highlight the broadness and technical nature of much of the spending, which also gives lawmakers and special interests a lot for which to contend.

Some components of the farm bill lend themselves to more partisanship, such as food stamp funding and climate and environmental issues. Ultimately, Democrats were able to save the food stamp program from major cuts in the farm bill last time around after back and forth with Republicans. 

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Meanwhile, food prices continue to rise in the U.S. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released its Consumer Price Index, a key marker of inflation, that consumer prices rose a little more than 3 percent in the previous 12 months. 

However, food prices have soared in recent years, with many food products doubling or tripling the already high inflation rate.

For instance, according to BLS data for urban consumers, the price of white bread rose 10.7 percent in from July of 2022 to July of 2023:

  • Cereal and bakery products rose 7 percent
  • Cookies rose 7.9 percent
  • Breakfast cereal rose 5.1 percent
  • Rice rose 6.1 percent
  • Frozen and refrigerated bakery products, pies, tarts, turnovers rose 8 percent
  • Raw beef steaks rose 7.8 percent
  • Raw roasts rose 6.3 percent
  • Crackers, bread, and cracker products rose 8.2 percent
  • Ice cream and related products rose 6.3 percent
  • Frozen vegetables rose 17.1 percent
  • Margarine rose 11.3 percent
  • Salad dressing rose 9.2 percent

The federal spending in the farm bill will likely have a major impact on food prices. Notably, processed foods can contain an array of agricultural products, like wheat or corn.