Farmers, lawmakers grapple with tight timeline for new Farm Bill

The expiration of the current farm bill is quickly approaching. The Virginia Farm Bureau offers their perspective as September progresses and time ticks away for this important piece of legislation.

Farmers across Virginia and the entire nation are keeping their fingers crossed, hoping that Congress can successfully pass a new Farm Bill before the current one expires at the end of September. However, this prospect faces considerable challenges given that Congress left Washington for the month-long August recess without a draft of the Farm Bill to pass when they returned the week of Sept. 11.

Throughout the summer, lawmakers engaged with farmers and other stakeholders, listening to their needs and concerns regarding the upcoming Farm Bill.

“A lot of our conversation has been about what’s working, what do we need to keep, what do we need to ensure continues to be available,” said Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), a member of the House Agriculture Committee, shared insights from these discussions. “An example is crop insurance, recognizing that sometimes things can be out of a farmer’s total control. In those bad years, we’ve got to ensure they can make ends meet and be ready to plant the next year.”

Spanberger’s efforts include visiting farms in her North Central Virginia District, where she’s witnessed firsthand how farmers are coping with challenges like extreme heat waves.

Robbie Carruthers, a farmer from Caroline County, emphasized the importance of catastrophic insurance, especially in light of increasingly unpredictable weather patterns.

“We tend to see more bad storms, more heat stress,” Carruthers noted, underlining the significance of insurance coverage to protect against weather-related losses.

The Farm Bill, often considered a vital safety net for farmers, encompasses various programs, including crop insurance and support for the next generation of farmers. Paul Franklin, CEO of Colonial Farm Credit, highlighted the bill’s guaranteed loan programs that help young, beginning small farmers with more accessible down payments and operating lines of credit.

However, the farm bill is not solely about agriculture, it also includes funding for nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Rep. G.T. Thompson, the Republican from Pennsylvania and Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, R-PA), emphasized the importance of these programs, noting that “neighbors help neighbors in need,” and believes it is a rural value represented in the nutrition title of the bill.

As the deadline for the current Farm Bill’s expiration approaches, it faces competition for lawmakers attention. The annual Appropriations bills, including funding for the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, must also be approved. At the same time, the specter of a government shutdown in October looms. A temporary solution could involve extending the current bill’s funding until a new one is passed, but there are no guarantees.

While the timeline is tight, Rep. Spanberger remains optimistic, believing that although there might be a slight delay past the end of September, a new Farm bill will likely come by the end of the calendar year.