USDA Secretary Vilsack weighs in on the debate over reference prices in the 2023 Farm Bill

At the National Farmers Union Fall Legislative Fly-In, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack sheds light on the potential budgetary implications of a trillion-dollar piece of legislation.

This year has seen a robust discussion surrounding reference prices as lawmakers craft the Farm Bill. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack recently addressed this hot-button topic at the National Farmers Union Fall Legislative Fly-In, held in Washington, D.C., this week.

In his address to the large gathering of state agriculture representatives from across the country, Vilsack reiterated the findings of the Congressional Budget Office, shedding light on the potential budgetary implications. Specifically, he emphasized that any adjustments to reference prices within this year’s Farm Bill legislation would come with a hefty price tag — potentially costing billions of dollars in federal funds. However, while Sec. Vilsack urged a comprehensive perspective, he also acknowledged the necessity of supporting farming and agriculture across America.

“It’s important for you, and everyone interested in the Farm Bill, to understand that it’s not the only tool available to support agriculture,” Vilsack said. “It’s really a three-legged stool: the [federal] budget, the Commodity Credit Corporation, and the Farm Bill. You don’t have to do everything in one of those boxes.”

Vilsack pointed out that if reference prices were expanded or altered for all commodities, it could translate to an estimated annual price tag of $2 billion. When that figure is extended over a decade, it amounts to a staggering $20 billion.

To put this in perspective, the USDA’s budget for the previous year was just shy of $200 billion. This year’s Farm Bill is expected to surpass a trillion dollars, marking a significant milestone in its budgetary impact. How that financing will be determined is now up to Congress, which began a new session this week with budgetary decisions top-of-mind.

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