U.S. Senate Committee on Judiciary

02/29/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 02/29/2024 21:03

Q&A: Farm Bill Update

02.29.2024

Q&A: Farm Bill Update

With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Q: Will Congress renew the Farm Bill this year?

A: The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee held its annual oversight hearing in late February to review operations at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack appeared before the committee to answer questions and testify about various programs of the federal department. As a lifelong family farmer and longtime member of the Senate Ag Committee, I used the opportunity to press Secretary Vilsack on issues of particular importance to Iowa producers, including renewal of the 2018 Farm Bill that lapsed on Sept. 30, 2023. Currently, programs implemented by the Farm Bill are operating under a one-year extension, including commodity supports, ag conservation, nutrition, trade, research, bioenergy and rural development. One day before the oversight hearing, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, indicated her preference to keep in place the 2018 law rather than reach a bipartisan agreement that would enact a full, five-year Farm Bill. That's poppycock. For the last two years, I've heard from Iowa farmers about priorities they want to see in a new Farm Bill, notably to raise reference prices that factor in soaring production costs that have been eating into their bottom lines for the last several years. Reference prices are used to calculate payments to farmers in the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) or Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) programs if the national average market value of a commodity falls below that federal benchmark. Just as inflation has hammered families at the grocery store, farmers have been hard hit by historic input costs, from fertilizer to fuel, machinery and seeds that undercut their profitability. Facing high interest rates and stagnant commodity prices, the farm safety net ought to be updated to reflect these challenges. As one of only a few farmers in Congress, I work hard to ensure family farmers have a strong voice at the policymaking table, particularly when it comes to renewing the five-year Farm Bill.

Not many people realize that 85 percent of Farm Bill funding goes towards nutrition programs, leaving only 15 percent for farm programs. In February, I held nine county meetings across Northeast Iowa. Iowans continue to make clear they want Washington to get on the stick and get the Farm Bill passed to deliver much-needed certainty for farmers who are gearing up for planting season. From roundtables and county meetings I've held across Iowa, farmers tell me they want the federal crop insurance program maintained and have shared concerns the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) outbids young and beginning farmers looking to cash rent and cattle producers in search of haying and grazing acres for their livestock. I'm working to ensure the CRP program doesn't allow the federal government to become an unfair competitor in the local market.

With so much unfinished business on its plate, the path for Congress to secure a bipartisan agreement on a five-year Farm Bill has a short runway. If legislation doesn't get to the president's desk by the end of March, I predict Congress will pass another one-year extension.

Q: What other matters did you raise to Secretary Vilsack?

A: I pressed Secretary Vilsack about the Biden administration's soon-to-be announced regulations that will shape American agriculture's pathway to help decarbonize aviation fuels in the transportation sector. I made clear American farmers and biofuel producers are ready and able to grow the clean energy economy and the science supports their contributions. Specifically, the Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions and Energy Use in Technologies (GREET) model for sustainable aviation fuel ought to stick to rigorous science that takes into account environmental farming practices such as conservation tillage, cover cropping and nutrient management, for example.

As an outspoken champion for rural America, I leverage my leadership in the U.S. Senate to ensure ag-based biofuels get due consideration when shaping national energy, environmental and geopolitical policy. Updated federal guidelines for sustainable aviation fuel will determine if ag-based biofuels have a runway to compete. As the former Governor of Iowa, Secretary Vilsack knows renewable biofuels support U.S. energy independence, create good-paying jobs and fortify rural economies across America's Heartland. I was glad to hear Secretary Vilsack confirm during my questioning the importance of grain feedstocks for Sustainable Aviation Fuel. I look forward to working together to boost biofuels in the sky, including my legislation the Farm to Fly Act that would help foster greater public-private sector collaboration between USDA and private sector alternative energy producers.

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