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Farm Bill Plows Ahead, Still Faces Challenges

Despite being behind schedule, Congressional committees have continued their work on a new Farm Bill.  This massive piece of legislation with an estimated $1.5 trillion price tag totals nearly 140,000 words – that’s almost five times as large as John Steinbeck’s classic novel Of Mice and Men. Between the front and back cover of this document lie no less than twelve ‘titles’ – that range from research and education to crop insurance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. To put it mildly, the implications of such an expansive document are staggering for our farming communities, and they have been for nearly a century.


The history of the U.S. Farm Bill began with the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, a part of the New Deal. This legislation aimed to address the economic struggles of the Great Depression and the agricultural crisis exacerbated by the Dust Bowl. The Act introduced subsidy payments to farmers who reduced their crop production, aiming to stabilize prices and reduce surpluses. Over its 18 iterations, the Farm Bill evolved to include various programs supporting farm income, conservation efforts, and food assistance. It is reauthorized approximately every five years, allowing policymakers to adapt agricultural policies to current needs​. 


The current Farm Bill’s twelve titles are as follows: I. Commodities, II. Conservation, III. Trade, IV. Nutrition, V. Credit, VI. Rural Development, VII. Research, Extension and Related Matters, VIII. Forestry, IX. Energy, X. Horticulture, Marketing and Regulatory Reform, XI. Crop Insurance, and XII. Miscellaneous Provisions. These titles are apt to change over time depending on the current economic climate of the nation or the needs of the farmers it is designed to help. It has been five years since the last Farm Bill was authorized in 2018; this iteration will expire in 2029. 


What’s the total? 1.5 trillion dollars. 


Diving into such a massive piece of legislation is no easy task. Oregon, however, is fortunate to be strongly represented in the House Committee on Agriculture with two sitting members of the total 46 – U.S. Representative Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-Happy Valley) and U.S. Representative Andrea Salinas (D-Tigard). Both were eager to speak with us about the Farm Bill, the challenges they faced when creating and fine tuning this five-year-in-the-making behemoth, and the causes they championed for our membership. 


Let’s start with the challenges. 


First is size. With twelve titles, there are a myriad of  possibilities to consider when it comes to funding programs. Salinas was dismayed when one of her own priorities, the Rural Partnership and Prosperity Act, was not included in the final markup. 


“It would have established a new grant program to help people on the ground because, again, our local, smaller towns don’t have City Managers,” Salinas said. This was a “foundational piece” that would, in a broader sense, fulfill a rural need that would also benefit farmers in her district. 


Currently, farmers are not the biggest beneficiaries from the Farm Bill’s coffers, it’s America’s low-income populations. After its passage in 2018, 76% of spending went towards the funding of nutrition programs such as, SNAP. While this year’s bill has passed out of the House Committee on Agriculture, there is still much to be decided after the 15-hour markup from members of the committee regarding this funding. The Senate will soon make its adjustments, which are not expected to happen until next month, according to U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (D-Iowa). 


U.S. Representative Andrea Salinas

Congresswoman Salinas is adamant that nutrition programs are vital to rural Oregon, and an important issue for her constituents. The eventual cut of $30 billion of nutrition benefits over the next ten years was a primary driver of her no vote out of committee. 


Chavez-DeRemer and Salinas also emphasized that Oregon's agriculture, being a specialty crop state with more than 200 different commodities, demands more attention compared to other states.


“I wanted [Chair Thompson] to recognize the value that Oregon offers,” Chavez-DeRemer said. “In regard to specialty crops, how unique we are in our industries and how important a Farm Bill can be, whether its access programs, crop insurance, or marketing programs. Crop insurance has not really been up to snuff as far as specialty crops. We are oftentimes competing for those dollars.” 


Chavez-DeRemer was able to overcome this by advocating for - and getting - a $15 million increase for this program. 


There were other victories as well. Both parties came together to craft this legislation. DeRemer consistently pointed out that despite the no votes out of committee, this is a bipartisan bill. “For me, that’s a win-win. All the chapters of the book are bipartisan because that’s how we can get it across the finish line.”


U.S. Representative Lori Chavez-DeRemer

Not only that, but both members of Congress from Oregon had ample opportunity to receive input from their constituents. For her part, Salinas participated in four roundtables that each focused on a different aspect of the bill. 


DeRemer also made strides into the community. Through listening sessions, meetings, and other forms of engagement, she gained valuable insights she was able to share with the committee. Last year, she brought G.T. Thompson, Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, to Oregon to hear from our farmers and producers directly. 


Other victories DeRemer outlined were expansions to existing programs. “We have a lot of single female farmers, but we also have families that need childcare while they are running their family farms, and there’s no access.” The result was the expansion of the Child Care and Rural America Act within the bill. Moreover, DeRemer pushed for expansion and modernization of the SNAP program to speed up applications so the nutrition title may be utilized properly without waste or abuse. 


The Farm Bill has many obstacles to overcome before it is finalized for the next half decade, but DeRemer summarized her attitude nicely: “I'm going to do everything I can to push my colleagues in Oregon to say this is a good Farm Bill and we need to get it done for our farmers and ranchers. They're counting on us. And if they can't count on us, who are they going to count on?”


To close, we asked each of the Congresswomen to share their favorite Oregon commodity.


For DeRemer, the Christmas Tree. 


For Salinas, grapes (and wine!). 




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