It’s been five years since the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (better known as the 2018 Farm Bill) was enacted by Congress. Provisions in that bill modified farm commodity programs, expanded crop insurance, amended conservation programs, reauthorized and revised nutrition assistance, and extended authority to appropriate funds for many USDA discretionary programs. An omnibus, multiyear law that governs a wide array of agricultural and food programs, the legislation has typically been renewed every five years since Congress first passed the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) of 1933.
In the 1930s, the country was reeling from the effects of the Great Depression and a horrible drought. Farming practices put in place during World War I were now beginning to cause havoc. During the wheat boom of that war, farmers were lured by record wheat prices and land developers encouraging poor land management practices. With their new gasoline-powered tractors, farmers over-plowed and over-grazed the Great Plains. When the drought and depression hit in the early 1930s, the wheat market collapsed and the lands previously anchored by prairie grass dried up and were defenseless against strong winds. Little rain and high temperatures, as well as insect infestations and dust storms, turned the situation from bad to worse. Adding to the troubles were the economic woes of banks and businesses closing in droves due to the economic situation in the country.
Something had to be done. The AAA was enacted in 1933 as an emergency response to the low prices of commodity crops during the Great Depression. It established a federal role in limiting the production of certain crops, including wheat, corn, and cotton, to reduce supply in order to increase prices. After the AAA was ultimately deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1936, Congress created a more permanent Farm Bill (the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938) with a built-in requirement to update it every five years.
Since then, eighteen farm bills have been passed by the U.S. Congress. These bills have traditionally focused on farm commodity programs that support corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, rice, peanuts, dairy, and sugar. They’ve become more expansive since 1973, when a nutrition component was first introduced. Other important additions since that time include the expansion of conservation, horticulture, bioenergy research, and rural development titles.
The omnibus nature of the Farm Bill, meaning it covers a diverse number of sometimes unrelated topics, can create broad coalitions of support among often conflicting interest groups. Groups advocating for increased nutrition, various specific commodities, or conservation, for example, can cause debate around the Farm Bill to be quite raucous every five years.
As a proud proponent of the American farmer, AgriSompo North America strongly supports the role of the Farm Bill in maintaining and expanding the crop insurance programs that are critical to maintaining the agricultural systems of this country.