Possible roadblocks on the path to an on-time Farm Bill

Washington, D.C.

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This year’s Farm Bill will be the 19th version in U.S. history and it is shaping up to be a tough battle, especially considering the projected $1.5 trillion price tag.

Randy Russell runs a government relations firm focused on food and agriculture policy. He has seen nine Farm Bills crafted over his career and says there are several factors driving the outcome of this year’s legislation.

“It is the farm economic environment at the time the farm bill is written. It is the budget environment at the time the bill is written, and what’s the political situation,” Russel said.

It will be hard to beat last year’s farm income record but despite a projected drop, Russell says agriculture finances are a lot better off than decades ago.

“In 2022, we had a net cash income of $199 billion. I mean, it was a record level. This year at the Outlook Conference, Seth Meyer and others at USDA predicted it would be about $150 billion for net cash income. While down considerably, 17 percent from the year before, still well above what we would say over the last 20 or 21 years. The debt-to-asset ratio for agriculture is somewhere in the neighborhood of 13 percent. When I was Chief of Staff at USDA for Secretary Block back in the mid-80s, the debt-to-asset ratio was 22 percent. Remember back then, farm equity values dropped by a third. The Farm Credit System needed to bail out, and it was a very difficult time. So that balance sheet for ag is much better, obviously, than historical averages,” Russell said.

The political climate in Washington also plays a big role and says getting a Farm Bill done this year will be a daunting task.

“The most evenly divided Congress in the history of this country. Passing a Mother’s Day resolution would be difficult. Trying to pass a farm bill in this environment is going to be very difficult. The task is pretty daunting. Why do I say that? I say that because you look at the 54 members of the House Agriculture Committee, and 16 of them voted on the 2018 Farm Bill. Sixteen out of 54. The education job for a chair and ranking member to try to get a farm bill through in this environment is daunting. Over in the Senate, it’s a little bit better numbers in terms of member continuity. Sixteen of the 23 voted on the 2018 Farm Bill but still quite a few new members and new staff,” Russell said.