Congressional Research Service Report, “What is the Farm Bill?”

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) recently released a report titled, “What is the Farm Bill?

The report explained that, “The farm bill is an omnibus, multi-year law that governs an array of agricultural and food programs. Titles in the most recent farm bill encompassed farm commodity price and income supports, agricultural conservation, farm credit, trade, research, rural development, bioenergy, foreign food aid, and domestic nutrition assistance. Because it is renewed about every five years, the farm bill provides a predictable opportunity for policymakers to comprehensively and periodically address agricultural and food issues.

The most recent farm bill—the Agricultural Act of 2014 (P.L. 113-79; 2014 farm bill)—was enacted into law in February 2014 and expires in 2018. It succeeded the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008. Provisions in the 2014 farm bill reshaped the structure of farm commodity support, expanded crop insurance coverage, consolidated conservation programs, reauthorized and revised nutrition assistance, and extended authority to appropriate funds for many U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) discretionary programs through FY2018.”

More specifically, the CRS report pointed out that, “The cost of the farm bill has grown over time, though relative proportions across the major program groups have shifted (Figure 3).

Conservation program spending has steadily risen as conservation programs have become more numerous and expansive in their authorized scope.

“Farm commodity program spending has both risen and fallen with market price conditions and policy responses. For the past decade, though, program costs have generally decreased as counter-cyclical payments were smaller due to higher market prices.”

With respect to crop insurance, the report stated that, “Crop insurance costs have increased steadily as the program has expanded to cover more commodities and become a primary means for risk management. Higher farm commodity market prices and increased covered acreage have raised the insured value of production and consequently program costs. Crop insurance costs have overtaken the traditional farm commodity programs in total costs.”

And regarding nutrition programs, by far the largest portion of Farm Bill spending, the CRS report indicated that, “Nutrition program assistance in the farm bill (SNAP) rose sharply after the recession in 2009 but has begun to decline more slowly during the recovery.”

Fig. 3-  CRS

Also with respect to nutrition spending, the report noted that, “Projected five-year SNAP outlays rose at an annualized rate of 13% per year from enactment of the 2008 farm bill to the 2014 farm bill. This $202 billion increase was entirely from changing economic expectations, since legislative changes in the 2014 farm bill scored a $3.2 billion reduction [See Table 2]”

The CRS report added that, “Projected five-year crop insurance outlays rose at an annualized rate of 11% per year from 2008 to 2014—nearly the same rate as SNAP, though smaller in dollars. The $20 billion increase was mostly from changing economic expectations rather than the $1.8 billion increase that was legislated in the farm bill.

Projected five-year farm commodity program outlays fell at an annualized rate of 9.1% per year between the 2008 and 2014 farm bills, given the $18 billion reduction that was scored from restructuring program payments.”

Table 2 – CRS

The CRS report added that, “The farm bill also extends authority for outreach and technical assistance programs for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers and adds military veteran farmers and ranchers as a qualifying group.”

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