INDIANAPOLIS — As the 2023 fiscal year came to a close on Saturday, one piece of legislation not passed by the United States Congress was the 2023 Farm Bill: an estimated $1.5 trillion bill that sets agriculture and nutrition policy over the next five years.

This comes after Congress narrowly avoided a government shutdown on Saturday. According to previous reports, the Senate and the House of Representatives voted in a bipartisan fashion to pass a 45-day continuing resolution, funding the government at its current levels through Nov. 17.

While most programs funded through the 2018 legislation are expected to continue through the end of the year, lawmakers expect the new five-year legislation to pass by the end of December, which officials said would still be “a win.”

“Our Farm Bill is the landmark legislation pertaining to our agriculture communities, in our rural communities, that comes through Congress,” U.S. Senator Todd Young said. “We’re all focused on getting this legislation reauthorized for the next five years. The legislation will cease to be applicable on Sept. 30, so it needs to be reauthorized.”

What is the Farm Bill?

Since the early 1930s, Congress has enacted a Farm Bill every five years, mainly focusing on farm commodity program support. In the early 1970s, the Congressional Research Service said the legislation expanded its reach to include nutrition, conservation, research and rural development.

Since the 1970s, the majority of the bill has become nutrition-based, funding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The bill has historically had largely bipartisan support every five years, from urban and rural representatives in Congress.

President Donald J. Trump signed the last Farm Bill — or the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 — in December 2018.

According to the bill, the 2018 version reauthorized various programs through the Department of Agriculture through F.Y. 2023, which ended on Saturday, including:

  • commodity support
  • conservation
  • trade and international food aid
  • nutrition assistance
  • farm credit
  • rural development
  • research and extension activities
  • forestry
  • energy
  • horticulture
  • crop insurance
  • livestock
  • agriculture and food defense
  • historically underserved producers

What are Indiana’s priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill?

Since the 2018 bill passed, Hoosier lawmakers began the process of the new Farm Bill legislation. According to previous reports, lawmakers met with farmers and other agricultural industry representatives over the last few years to help shape Indiana’s priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill.

In a letter sent to the House of Representatives’ Agriculture Committee June 9, Indiana representatives asked the committee to give “full and fair consideration” to Indiana’s priorities.

“Hoosier farmers make up the backbone of America,” the letter read. “With more than 55,000 farms across the state of Indiana, agriculture supports over 946,000 jobs and more than $193 billion in food and agricultural economic outputs. It is imperative that we pass a strong farm bill that protects our producers in order for them to continue providing safe, affordable and abundant food, fuel and fiber to the citizens of this nation and people around the world.”

Some of the priorities listed in the letter include:

  • Farm Safety Net
    • Prioritizing risk management tools and funding for federal crop insurance and commodity programs.
    • Support a “robust crop insurance program with no reductions in premium cost share, and support developing and maintaining adequate risk management tools for livestock producers including contract growers.”
  • Conservation
    • Ensure that all federal conservation programs remain voluntary and incentive-based.
  • Nutrition
    • Benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, support more than 290,000 Hoosier families.
    • The 2023 legislation must be a “unified” bill, keeping nutrition and farm programs together.
  • Foreign Animal Disease (FAD) prevention
    • Threats from FADs include African Swine Fever, highly pathogenic Avian Influenza and Foot-and-Mouth disease.
    • “It is imperative that we adequately fund early detection, prevention and rapid response tools to address any potential animal disease outbreak; robust laboratory capacity for surveillance and a viable stockpile of vaccines through the National Animal Vaccine and Veterinary Countermeasures bank to rapidly respond to the intentional or unintentional introduction of a high consequence FADs.”
  • Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development
    • These two programs are designed to help build commercial export markets for U.S. agricultural products.
    • Funding for the two programs helps ensure that the United States “continues to gain access to new markets” for agricultural products.

Brantley Seifers, the director of national government affairs for the Indiana Farm Bureau, said the Indiana farmers the bureau represents are mainly focused on the “farm portion,” including the safety net, crop insurance and conservation programs. Seifers also said the rural development portion of the bill, including the development of broadband access for rural areas, was also critical.

Overall, the 2018 Farm Bill was a “do no harm” bill, Seifers said. While he expects to see some tweaks in the new legislation, the bureau is not expecting to see major changes in the new legislation.

“For us, our priorities and focus haven’t changed very much,” he said. “We’re still waiting on a bill draft. We hoped to get that draft a little sooner, but it’s looking like it’s been delayed. As soon as we get our hands on a draft, we’ll be able to see where Congress’ priorities are, and how those might have shifted.” 

What’s the status of developing the 2023 Farm Bill?

Many of the Indiana members of the U.S. House of Representatives said they helped create the state’s priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill by talking with constituents, stakeholders and other agribusiness officials.

As the only Indiana representative on the House Agriculture Committee, U.S. Rep. Jim Baird, R-Indiana District 4, also traveled to states such as Connecticut and Texas to see what was working and what wasn’t with the 2018 legislation. Being on this committee gave Baird the chance to visit with the other Indiana lawmakers surrounding the development of the legislation.

“I’m familiar with all the other representatives in our Indiana delegation, and so we have a chance to visit and I think that’s important that we share ideas,” Baird said. “They have information about the various committees they serve on and that I’m interested in and then they’re interested in agriculture because all of our representatives have agriculture in their districts. So, we have the opportunity to visit and share.”

Baird said the best thing about the 2018 legislation was the titles surrounding commodities and voluntary conservation practices, as well as the overall importance of the crop insurance program.

U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-Indiana District 8, said that along with the importance of the commodities and crop insurance programs, the important thing is to keep the SNAP program in the Farm Bill. Bucshon said if SNAP is separate from the legislation, it would make it more difficult for the bill overall to pass.

U.S. Rep. Victoria Spartz, R-Indiana District 5 said farming is one of the toughest businesses, one that she has had experience within her family, which makes the legislation important.

“I always say that this is one of the toughest businesses, you know… because you depend on God and government,” she said. “Unfortunately, this is very hard to control.”

In her conversations with constituents, U.S. Rep. Erin Houchin, R-Indiana District 9, said it mainly resulted in a couple of “top-line” topics that needed to be a part of the new legislation.

“One would be workforce issues, so whether you are in manufacturing or agriculture or anything, workforce issues are coming to the forefront in almost every meeting that I have,” Houchin said. “My meetings with farmers are no different. In addition to that, crop insurance, farm safety net programs… and then Waters of the USA and the inability of the regulation puts on farmers to really manage their own property and use that for ag purposes.”

However, with the ongoing debate surrounding appropriations bills in Congress, there has not been much discussion on the 2023 Farm Bill. Houchin stressed that she would not call it a delay on the bill. There could be a potential to have a continuation of the previous bill with the previous funding levels set.

“We certainly have to get through these next two weeks, get to the other end of that,” Houchin said on Sept. 21. “We are working all of these issues within our own conference, trying to get to a place where we can cut spending, keep the government open and try to press on with the other necessary work that we have, like the Farm Bill.”

Baird said the committee wants to get the bill done “correctly and effectively” and has every confidence that the bill will be completed before the end of the year. Baird said there are a lot of “good agriculture states” represented on the House Agriculture Committee that recognize how important agriculture is to rural communities.

“We have a vested interest in making sure we get this done, and try to get it done before the end of the year,” he said. “That’s my goal, and I think there’s a lot of colleagues I have that want to do the same thing.”

Seifers said figurative “alarm bells” will start to sound in November if there is not any more progress by lawmakers on the Farm Bill, stressing that the bureau would really like to see a 2023 bill and not a 2024 bill.

“It would have significant impacts if we were to not get (the bill) extended and changed. So, what we’re looking at, this Farm Bill 2018 ends on Sept. 30,” he said. “A lot of those programs, however, are funded through the end of the year. But if we get to December 2023 without some extension or without a new farm bill, preferably a new farm bill, we’re going to have some trouble with the farm programs we depend on, (programs) our members depend on…” 

Why is the Farm Bill important?

Houchin said this five-year legislation contains necessary provisions for farmers to continue to do their jobs.

“Our farmers feed America. They feed the world,” she said. “The Farm Bill, in particular, contains provisions that are certainly necessary for the agriculture industry and our farmers to continue to do that work. Crop insurance and farm safety net programs are certainly a part of that. We can’t predict the weather. We can’t predict when a flood is going to knock out a certain percentage of our crops, so we do have to be aware that the federal government can play a role in providing some protection of supply.”

Ultimately, Young believes there will be a Farm Bill between now and year’s end because of how critical the legislation’s impact is, not only to Indiana but to the United States as a whole. Young said there is a history of Congress getting a lot done in the final quarter of the year, and he’s confident that they are going to pass the 2023 bill.

“Look no further than a map of the United States, certainly a map of Indiana… Most of it is occupied by rural communities, sparsely populated communities where we’re growing food and fiber, where we’re raising livestock and other animals,” Young said. “We want those communities, those economic centers, to continue to remain vibrant. It’s not only our source of food and other important commodities, but it’s also part of who we are. It’s an important part of our culture and I think everyone values that heritage. We want to make sure that those who continue to live in farming communities or ranching communities can maintain their way of life.”