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Tuberville, farmers tout wins in $1.5 trillion Farm Bill; opposition anticipated

Members, advocates and leaders of Alabama’s farming community recently laid praise on new developments in the 2024 Farm Bill, a complex legislative package that includes a number of federal programs that support farmers and those with food insecurity. 

Many, however, also voiced concerns that the package would likely see fierce opposition once it reaches its next stop in the U.S. Senate over a recent inclusion that could significantly impact the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The previous Farm Bill, passed in 2018, was initially projected to cost $867 billion over ten years, whereas the latest version – its passage delayed by more than a year – is projected to cost $1.5 trillion over ten years. The package is traditionally passed every five years.

The Farm Bill recently passed out of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, and with over 50 amendments, among them one that that could potentially reduce SNAP’s funding by nearly $30 billion over the next ten years.

It’s that change that has left some, including Mitt Walker, director for National Legislative Programs for the Alabama Farmers Federation, as well as Sen. Tommy Tuberville, who sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee, to predict that the package will receive considerable opposition in the days ahead.

“It was certainly encouraging to see the House AG Committee be able to move the bill through,” Walker told Alabama Daily News Thursday. “At the same time, I think we’ve got a long, long way to go. This is just the first few steps of a marathon process.”

‘We’ve got a lot of great wins in this bill’

Walker, speaking on behalf of Alabama’s largest farmer organization, said that a number of his organization’s priorities for the package had been included in the latest version of the bill, including the organization’s single-highest priority: reference prices.

“It was a resounding, unanimous decision that our top priority in this Farm Bill needed to be addressing reference prices; the reason that is so critical is inflation has hit the entire country, and certainly in the farm country as well,” Walker said.

As it relates to farming, reference prices are a form of federal insurance for farmers should market factors cause the average price of select crops to drop below a certain level. Such market factors could be trade wars or product oversaturation.

The price threshold that would potentially trigger a payout to farmers, the reference price, is set in new iterations of the Farm Bill. Walker argued that the current reference prices weren’t just five years out of date, however, but were out of date by more than a decade.

“The reference prices that were included in the 2018 Farm bill were really just rolled forward from the 2014 Farm bill, and when the 2014 Farm bill was passed, really those numbers were based on 2012 economic data. So we’re 12 years passed those numbers really being up to date and being reflective of what it costs to actually produce these crops.”

Rick Pate, commissioner for the Alabama Department of Agriculture, also touted the increase to reference prices as a win for Alabama’s farmers, and lauded a number of other inclusions to the package as well, including the continuation of a federal crop grant program.

“There is money in there that we get through a cooperative agreement with the USDA,” Pate told ADN Thursday.

“It’s not a ton of money, but we get basically crop grant money – normally it’s about $500,000 a year – that we’re able to award to fruit and vegetable growers to promote fruits and vegetables. We’re funding some ‘buy local’ programs with that money.”

In a press call this week, Tuberville said the bill was headed “in the right direction,” and touted the increased reference prices, an expansion of the Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program and the continuation of the Feral Swine Eradication and Control Program as “a lot of great wins in this bill.”

Sen. Tommy Tuberville is a sitting member on the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Both Walker and Pate named all those inclusions as wins for farmers as well. Tuberville expressed concern about how the bill might fare when it eventually reaches the Senate.

“I’m proud of our farmers, so I’m glad to see the AG Committee passed it out of the House last week with bi-partisan support, which is great, Democrats and Republicans,” Tuberville said. The bill passed with the support of all Republicans and four Democrats. 

“We’ve got a lot of great wins in this bill that will actually help our farmers for the first time. Things are so partisan over here on the Senate side though, we shouldn’t be jumping up and down because it has to go through the Senate.”

Change in SNAP funding could be a non-starter in the Senate

When the Farm Bill passed out of the House AG Committee on May 23, the authority to reevaluate food plans that are used to determine SNAP benefits was shifted from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to Congress, a change that the Congressional Budget Office projected could see a $30 billion reduction in SNAP funding over the next ten years.

The change would essentially make annual inflation increases the sole metric for adjustments to SNAP funding, which ultimately determines SNAP payouts, whereas today, metrics like cost of living and food prices are also considered.

Carol Gundlach, senior policy analyst for Alabama Arise, recently told ADN that Alabama’s nearly 800,000 SNAP recipients receive “around $2 per person, per meal per day.”

When asked by ADN about the change to SNAP in the Farm Bill, Tuberville said that while it was important to take care of those in need, the growing cost of the program may soon become unaffordable and that it needed “to be looked at.”

“We call it a Farm bill; actually, it should be called SNAP card bill because this bill has potential to be around $1.5 trillion, which is an amazing amount of money, but only a small percentage of that goes to farmers, I’d say at least two-thirds of it goes to people for food,” Tuberville told ADN. 

“That being said, all the SNAP card legislation, that all needs to be looked at, it’s getting to the point where the American taxpayers can’t afford it.”

Pate said the increased reference prices were his main priority in the Farm Bill, saying that “there’s no sustainability in farming without profitability.”

“People that don’t know act like this is some government giveaway, but it’s really only when prices crash so low that it would take out a farmer, and we know that from COVID, that food security is national security; if we can’t feed ourselves, we’ll be held hostage by every rogue nation there is,” Pate said.

“Something like 80% of the Farm bill is directed towards SNAP, and I get that, we want to help those people, but it doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got in your pocket if you can’t find any food to buy it with.”

The Farm Bill is expected to be fiercely debated by members of the Senate, particularly by Democratic senators, many of whom have already vowed to reverse the change in SNAP funding.

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