2024 PREVIEW: PRIORITIES FOR FARMERS UNION
The 2023 calendar year is ending without a new farm bill, after being extended until September 30, 2024. Last month’s extension came on the heels of a tumultuous year on Capitol Hill.
The main events of the 118th Congress to date have been a historic speaker election that lasted 15 rounds, the summer debt ceiling agreement, a government shutdown near-miss, and the removal of the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, which caused a lengthy work stoppage to elect the next speaker. However, in the closing act of its first year, Congress did pass an extension of the 2018 Farm Bill.
Both Congress and the Biden Administration will have a busy slate come January. NFU’s top priorities in 2024 include fully funding the government, strengthening enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act, and passing the right farm bill.
1. FUND THE GOVERNMENT
The fiscal year 2024 (FY24) began on October 1, 2023, at 12:00 midnight. Up against the deadline (literally – see the timestamp), Congress was able to avert a government shutdown by passing a contentious, and consequential, continuing resolution (CR), which extended government funding at existing FY23 levels through mid-November. In the weeks that followed, Kevin McCarthy was ousted as the Speaker of the House and all legislative business was halted until a new speaker could be elected. Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) eventually obtained the gavel, allowing House business to resume after three grueling weeks.
Few lawmakers had the appetite for another protracted spending battle at the next deadline, as scars from September and October remained. Congress passed another CR to fund the government into early 2024 on November 14, which included a year-long extension of the 2018 Farm Bill.
A unique and uncommon aspect of the most recent CR is the two-tiered or “laddered” approach to the funding extension. With all twelve spending bills extended at FY23 levels, most of the extensions run until February 2, but several expire on January 19, including the agriculture funding bill.
The House Appropriations agriculture subcommittee released their initial FY24 agriculture spending bill in May, which directed steep spending cuts to USDA farm and food programs. Worse yet, it contained a policy rider provision that would prevent USDA from completing ongoing Packers & Stockyards Act (P&S Act) rulemakings that seek to strengthen the law’s enforcement. NFU expressed strong opposition to the bill upon its introduction and has since run several membership action alerts against it.
To date, the House has been unable pass all their FY24 appropriations bills – the agriculture funding bill chief among them, which failed by a wide margin on the House floor. Republicans remain mired in disagreement over several issues, which will make for a very tight timeline when Congress returns from the holiday break.
NFU’s FY24 appropriations priorities include robust funding across USDA agencies to ensure fair, competitive, and resilient markets; protect family farmers and ranchers from anticompetitive conduct; provide farmers and ranchers with the tools needed to fight climate change; and build vibrant rural communities. NFU will continue fighting against spending cuts, as well any provisions that seek to interfere with USDA’s efforts to strengthen the P&S Act.
2. STRENGTHEN THE PACKERS AND STOCKYARDS ACT
In July 2021, President Biden outlined his action plan to promote competition in the American economy, which directed USDA to write new rules under the P&S Act to address corporate consolidation throughout the food system.
The P&S Act became law in 1921 to protect livestock and poultry producers from unfair, deceptive, and monopolistic practices in the marketplace. But the law has not kept up with changes in the livestock industry, which has seen rampant consolidation, reduced market transparency, and the rise of unfair contract terms for farmers and ranchers. News rules are needed to provide strong and genuine protections for family producers.
USDA has only finalized one P&S Act rule, which is focused on creating greater transparency in poultry contracting systems. NFU has urged USDA to swiftly finalize its outstanding P&S Act rules. These include the “Inclusive Competition and Market Integrity” rule – currently in the final review stage – which seeks to identify unlawfully deceptive and retaliatory practices under the P&S Act.
USDA recently made further progress by sending two additional P&S Act rules to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review. When OMB completes its review, proposed rules should be released for public comment. One rule is expected to address abuses in contract poultry growing systems and the other is expected to clarify USDA’s longstanding interpretation that it is unnecessary under the P&S Act for producers to demonstrate industry-wide harm to establish violations under the law.
On December 13, NFU co-led a group letter to President Biden commending his administration for its actions and efforts to fight monopoly power in agriculture, while highlighting the important work done thus far by the Department of Justice (DOJ), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and USDA to create fairer and more competitive agricultural markets. The letter highlights the importance of USDA’s efforts to update the Packers & Stockyards Act (P&S Act). While commending USDA for its efforts on P&S Act rulemakings thus far, it also expresses concern about USDA’s slow pace in their completion. NFU and partners have urged the Administration and USDA to act quickly as efforts to block completion of the rulemakings remain active.
3. PASS THE RIGHT FARM BILL
The 2018 Farm Bill has been extended to September 30, 2024. But the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have signaled their intent to pass a new farm bill in the first quarter of 2024. There remain several disagreements that need to be hashed out before draft bills can be introduced, primarily concerning funding increases for certain farm programs.
The Senate Agriculture Committee differs on the $20 billion for USDA conservation programs from the Inflation Reduction Act and the scope and application of Title I commodity programs. Across the hill, House Agriculture Committee Chairman G.T. Thompson’s (R-PA) has begun presenting plans for spending allocations to achieve his farm bill priorities. These include reallocating conservation funding provided by the Inflation Reduction Act, capping USDA’s Section 5 authority under the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), and restricting the way USDA updates the Thrifty Food Plan, the economic model that used to set federal nutrition assistance benefits.
NFU supported the farm bill extension, but renewed calls for Congress to get the act quickly on a new farm bill. While the extension provided producers with certainty regarding the status of farm programs ahead of the next growing season, family farmers and ranchers face challenges that only a new farm bill can address.
But not just any farm bill will do the trick – we need the right farm bill. NFU’s top priority in the months ahead is securing passage of a five-year farm bill that provides strong support for family farmers, ranchers, and our communities.
The right farm bill will ensure Fairness for Farmers by addressing the monopoly crisis in agriculture, strengthen the farm safety net, and help farmers and ranchers tackle climate change. NFU is advocating for a dedicated title on competition to increase fairness throughout agricultural markets, penalize large corporations for anticompetitive conduct, and strengthen protections for producers under the P&S Act. NFU supports efforts to expand crop insurance, establish permanent disaster assistance, and protect the farm bill’s conservation and energy titles to promote climate-smart agricultural practices and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Farmers Union members can expect many opportunities to make their voices heard. Be on the lookout for updates and action alerts in the months ahead!