The Farm Bill

The legislation that shapes the U.S. food system
Photo: NCinDC/CC BY-ND 2.0, Flickr

The Farm Bill is a comprehensive (currently $956 billion) legislative package that shapes federal food and agricultural policy. It is renewed by Congress at roughly five-year intervals.

The investments Congress makes in the Farm Bill largely determine our food choices and food costs, as well as how food is produced on the nation’s farms and ranches. Ultimately, the policy decisions contained in the bill affect both our personal health and the health of our land, air, water, and communities.

What's in the Farm Bill?

The Farm Bill is an omnibus bill, which means that it incorporates a wide variety of provisions that might otherwise be considered as separate bills.

Recent Farm Bills have included provisions addressing, among many other things:

  • Crop insurance and commodity support programs which pay farmers based on losses in yield or revenue
  • Nutrition assistance programs for low-income individuals and families, including the largest spending item in the bill, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Research on a wide range of food and agriculture topics
  • Investments to spur rural economic development, such as rural broadband service and rural business loans
  • Loans and grants to help farmers purchase land, equipment, seeds, and even livestock
  • Financial and technical assistance to encourage soil, water, and wildlife conservation on farmlands
  • Programs to develop agricultural biofuels and promote energy efficiency on farms

Strengthening SNAP for Rural and Urban America

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides support to 21 million American households in urban and rural areas, lifting families out of poverty, reducing food insecurity, and generating long-term positive health outcomes.

The reauthorization of the farm bill introduces both threats to SNAP and opportunities to strengthen the program. Find out more >

The 2014 Farm Bill

After more than one missed deadline, Congress finally passed a Farm Bill in early 2014. This version of the bill, which expires in September 2018, included both victories and disappointments for healthy food and farm advocates. Wins included increased support for local food and sustainable farming programs, along with revival of a long-lapsed provision  which requires farmers to implement basic conservation practices in exchange for farm subsidies. Several programs UCS fought for—such as those investing in farmers markets, extending crop insurance to organic and diversified farms, and increasing access to healthy foods for those most in need—were all included in the final package.

On the minus side, funding for a program that incentivizes conservation measures was cut substantially, as was the SNAP program.

Yet the biggest shortcoming of the 2014 bill was not a new one: the continued entrenchment of a food and farm system that has impoverished farmers and their rural communities; failed to deliver healthy food for all; left our air, water, and soil unprotected; exploited low wage workers; and enabled our national processed food addiction.

The next Farm Bill

Although a new Farm Bill isn’t likely to pass until 2018 at the earliest, Congress has already begun preliminary work on it. We’re rolling up our sleeves for the work of making the next Farm Bill as good as possible, in spite of the formidable lobbying forces working to prop up the failed status quo. As the legislative process unfolds, we’ll be updating this page with news—and keeping you informed about ways you can make your voice count.     

Last revised date: May 23, 2017

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