Farm Bill Stumbles as Big Business Seeks to Strip away Reform

Reaching a final farm bill deal in Washington hinges on a major stumbling block - payment limits.

Let’s review where we’re at. Thanks to a strong showing from grassroots supporters like you, both the House and the Senate versions of the farm bill include identical farm program payment limit reform. 

For the first time ever, we won the reforms in both chambers that Senator Grassley (R-IA) has sought for two decades. Representative Fortenberry (R-NE) championed the provision in the House. The Obama Administration is on record in support as well. 

You ran the tables. Advocates for small towns and family farms came together across the countryside and across party lines. 

All parties agreed to close loopholes, including tightening the definition of what it means to be actively engaged in farming. For years mega-farms have exploited a loophole in the actively engaged rules to create paper-partnerships and collect unlimited payments.

You won all of that. Typically, any language that is the same in both the House and the Senate is not subject to conference negotiations. But having been through this fight before, you know commodity program reform is not a typical business. 

It’s big business. It’s big business vs. small business. 

And big business likes to throw its weight around behind closed doors in Washington. That is what they have been doing as House and Senate negotiators meet in private to hammer out a final deal.

Senator Grassley and Representative Fortenberry have been fierce defenders for their payment limit provisions throughout the process. They have each spoken clearly and unambiguously in the media at every step. 

Key administration officials, however, appear to be bowing to big business pressure, singling a willingness to relax the limits. Meanwhile, the media repeatedly characterizes the fight as one between the Midwest and the South. But conference committee members from Northern farm states are among those trying to negotiate away our win. 

You - the people - are on the side of family farmers in this debate. 

The country’s wealthiest landowners and their agribusiness brethren are leaning hard on a small group of Washington policymakers to strip away your victory.

A recent analysis showed that with falling grain prices, farmers in some parts of the country would see new payments under a revised commodity program in the draft farm bill. With the possibility for renewed commodity payments, whether mega-farms will be entitled to unlimited payments remains a pertinent question in the countryside. 

As final negotiations draw near, the Center for Rural Affairs stands squarely behind our grassroots and family farmer supporters and our leading champions in Washington. 

Given the significant concern among policymakers in Washington about spending, it is unconscionable to think that a bipartisan, bicameral, grassroots-backed provision to save money and strengthen rural America would be stripped behind closed doors. 

We will fight this one to the end. 

You can help by calling your Senators and Representative today. Tell them that you stand with the Center for Rural Affairs. Tell them the final farm bill must contain the Grassley-backed commodity reforms and invest the savings in creating broad opportunity in small towns. And you can sign our petition here.

The fight is not over.

Brian Depew is the Executive Director of the Center for Rural Affairs.