Farm bill to take center stage in May

Capitol Hill is set to talk farm policy once again. (KP Tripathi/Flickr)
Capitol Hill is set to talk farm policy once again. (KP Tripathi/Flickr)

It’s planting season for farmers across the country, but it’s farm bill season once again in Washington DC.

Lawmakers in both the U.S. Senate and House are set to once again tackle the farm bill in the coming weeks. Rep. Frank Lucas, the Republican chair of the House Agriculture Committee, said this week that his committee will start marking up new farm bill legislation May 15. Democratic Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid said Thursday on the Senate floor that he wants to push farm bill legislation through by the end of May.

If you’re combating a bout of déjà vu, that’s because the farm bill has been up and down in fits and starts for more than a year. Congress wasn’t able to agree on a full five-year comprehensive farm bill last year when the previous version expired. Instead, lawmakers quickly passed a half-hearted one-year farm bill extension and vowed to return to the legislation this year. That left many farmers frustrated and uncertain about how future federal policy will affect their livelihood.

Last year, both the Senate and House Agriculture Committees passed farm bill legislation. The entire Senate passed its version in June. The full House, however, failed to pass a bill. The bills that came out of committee, though, will serve as a template for this year's efforts.

The farm bill is a massive legislative package meant to chart policy for five years and it includes everything from the farm safety net to commodity subsidies to the food stamp program. The final version will contain almost $1 trillion in spending – last year’s drafts included about $960 billion – and in the current tough fiscal climate nearly every lawmaker has ideas for how that money is, or isn’t, spent.

Last year we followed the farm bill’s hazy movements as it headed toward expiration. This year, we’ll continue to both look toward Washington as lawmakers piece a bill together and to the fileds where farmers will most keenly feel its effects.