Farm Bill 101

By Kelly Visser, Iowa Food & Family Project

You may have recently heard about passage of the Farm Bill. Don’t think it affects you? Think again!

The Farm Bill is more like a “Food Bill.” This important legislation connects the food on our plates, farmers who produce that food and the natural resources that make growing food possible.

To better understand how this bill sets the stage for our nation’s food and farm systems, the Iowa Food & Family Project (Iowa FFP) visited with Michael Dolch, the director of public affairs for the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA).  

Michael Dolch is the director of public affairs for the Iowa Soybean Association. Photo credit: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association

Michael Dolch is the director of public affairs for the Iowa Soybean Association. Photo credit: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association

Iowa FFP: Why has the Farm Bill been in the headlines recently?

Dolch: About every five years, the federal government reviews and renews the Farm Bill. Last month, the Farm Bill – formally known as the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 – was passed by both the U.S. Senate (87-13 vote) and U.S. House (369-47 vote). It was then signed into law on December 20, 2018.

The new bill makes modest changes to the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2014. The budget-neutral legislation – meaning it will not increase the federal deficit – outlines $867 billion in spending over ten years.

With the Farm Bill signed into law, attention now turns to the implementation and appropriation. These are the phases where rules and programs are written according to congressional intent and money is set aside in the yearly federal budget to fund the programs. So far in 2019, the government shutdown has halted implementing the new bill.

Iowa FFP: What is the purpose of the Farm Bill?

Dolch: The Farm Bill dates to 1933 and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal Legislation. The original bill was debated and passed to help keep food prices fair for farmers and consumers, ensure an adequate food supply and protect the country’s natural resources.

Much of the bill has changed since then, but the primary goals remain the same. The legislation has a tremendous impact on farming livelihoods, how food is grown and what kind of food is produced. It authorizes programs ranging from crop insurance for farmers to healthy food access for low-income families to training for beginning farmers to conservation-focused initiatives.

Iowa FFP: How does the Farm Bill impact nutrition programs?

Dolch: Nutrition programs account for about 80 percent of the bill’s spending, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The program – commonly known as food stamps – offers temporary nutrition assistance to eligible, low-income individuals and families. It also acts as a safeguard in circumstances causing temporary food insecurity or financial strain, such as natural disasters or unexpected gaps in employment.

SNAP eligibility was one of the biggest sticking points and most controversial issue surrounding the 2018 Farm Bill. Although hotly debated, the final version of the bill changed very little. Instead, the bipartisan compromise maintained and modestly strengthened SNAP for millions of Americans.

Additionally, farmers and consumers will both benefit from improved access to fresh, local food with the legislation funding the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP). The program helps increase and strengthen direct producer-to-consumer marketing.

Iowa FFP: Tell us more about your role with ISA?

Dolch: As the director of public affairs, I help oversee the association’s policy development and advocacy efforts in both the federal and state legislative and regulatory arenas. I work directly with the state’s soybean farmers to build policy awareness and advocate for public policy that supports farming operations and the soybean industry.