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Farm Bill 2023… Maybe Down the Road?

The United States Farm Bill is a sprawling, complex multiyear omnibus that governs an array of agricultural and food programs. How does sustainability fit in?

Autumn photo of agricultural lands with bales and leafless trees bisected by a country highway

In case you didn’t already know, nothing about farming is simple or easy. Farmers are subjected to volatile factors like markets, interest rates, technology, government programs, and climate. It can be a dangerous and stressful vocation for both physical and mental health reasons. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the Farm Bill 2023 renewal is complex and encompasses a broader set of issues than you might expect.

The current Farm Bill of 2018 includes commodities production and price support, ag disaster relief and crop insurance, trade and international food assistance, nutrition assistance (SNAP), ag credit, rural economic development, research and extension programs, forestry, biofuels and renewable energy, organic farming and local food markets. The USDA’s Economic Research Service has a wealth of information and data about the trends in all of these areas.

Environment and ag advocates: Common goals

Environmentalists and farmers are uniting as never before on issues surrounding climate change. Historically, both groups formed advocacy alliances to work toward clean water, soil conservation, and protected wildlife areas and wetlands. The two groups also have a shared resistance to pipeline projects. Now in pursuit of a renewed Farm Bill, climate evidence continues to emerge that solidifies even more common goals. In particular, two new definitive reports identify trends that correlate agriculture and climate change.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has released their report on The Impact of Disasters on Agriculture and Food Security 2023. The report states

“Understanding interconnected and systemic risks and underlying disaster risk drivers is essential to build resilient agrifood systems. Climate change, pandemics, epidemics and armed conflict are all affecting agricultural production, value chains and food security. Therefore, gaining a better understanding of their interactions is essential for developing a comprehensive view of today’s risk landscape.”

Secondly, the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) has also just released its report on Climate Change and U.S. Agricultural Exports: How Future Weather Patterns Will Impact U.S. Competitiveness. The document outlines case studies for wheat, soybeans, corn, and cotton, as well as beef and milk, all related to climate issues. The conclusion on agriculture’s effect on climate change is stated clearly:

“The population boom of the past century has caused demand for food products to skyrocket. As a result, the agricultural sector now generates 19 to 29 percent of the world’s total GHG emissions.”

These latest reports underscore the urgency for action and make the case for the updated policies and programs that are incorporated into the many environmental provisions of the new farm bill currently under consideration by Congress.

The potential for positive impact

As a start, the upcoming 2023 Farm Bill could significantly impact climate policy by incentivizing sustainable agriculture to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The proposed bill would continue current funding for conservation programs and provide additional support to research areas such as the development of carbon sequestration, soil health, and climate resilience.

  • The proposed bill outlines a plan using the existing network of USDA Climate Hubs across the country so that program decisions will be targeted to specific regions. As the CSIS report points out, there is a northward migration of warmer temperatures that has a direct impact on ag production. More localized administration will enable a targeted response.

  • The new bill would establish a Liaison for Food Loss and Waste Reduction to track and eliminate food waste emissions. There are provisions to encourage food recovery and donation programs.

  • Funding in the new bill would support the installation of renewable energy infrastructure and the purchase of precision agriculture equipment to increase sustainability of farm and ranch operations. In addition, funding is allocated for supporting bio-based innovations for food production, fuel and energy production, and research coordination between the USDA and the Department of Energy.

  • Veterans, people who are socially disadvantaged, and beginning farmers and ranchers could further benefit from provisions of the new Farm Bill that provide opportunities for resources and support. This is an important aspect to nurture future generations of farmers and ranchers who are proponents of sustainable and regenerative ag practices.

Where does it stand, and what can I do?

The current Farm Bill has technically expired after five years on September 30, 2023, but it is hoped that the Congressional renewal vote will be taken by the end of this year. South Dakota Searchlight’s Allison Winter on September 26 discusses how the Farm Bill may fare in the current political climate of Congressional turmoil and potential government shutdown.

The 2018 bill cost $428 billion, so it is a big deal! The appropriations process is clearly explained by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition here. Now is the time to contact South Dakota’s Congressional members to express your views on the importance of conservation to our state’s agricultural economy and how we can thrive together.

As South Dakota farmland returns to its annual dormancy, our focus turns to the future. The future Farm Bill is full of promise for everyone on our planet.


Sources and further reading:

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