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Delayed Passage of Farm Bill Stirs Uncertainty for Texas Agriculture

By  GRACE YARROW

Key federal legislation to support farmers and consumers could get delayed due to the looming government shutdown, causing uncertainty for agriculture and nutrition programs in Texas.

The must-pass package of legislation known as the farm bill, which is reauthorized every five years, is critical to funding a wide range of programs that include providing crop insurance and loans to farmers and food access to low-income families.

Traditionally a testament to bipartisanship in Congress, meeting the Sept. 30 deadline to pass the bill is seemingly impossible as lawmakers are preoccupied with averting a government shutdown. In lieu of passing a new version of the farm bill, Congress is expected to extend the deadline, keeping in place the current version of the law for as long as a few weeks to several months.

But that temporary fix delays critical updates for the agriculture industry.

“What the farm bill is trying to do is to provide a sense of security to our farmers in an increasingly uncertain space, with rising temperatures, more droughts,” said Chloe Kessock, spokesperson for Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Dallas, who serves on the House Agriculture Committee. “The farm bill is meant to kind of make up for that lack of security, but when we have a pending possible shutdown, then you also have insecurity in that space. So where are farmers supposed to get that source of stability?”

Texas has by far the most acres of farmland in the country. But policies covered in the farm bill have broad implications beyond agriculture. Nutrition programs have to be reauthorized under the law, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which helped one in nine Texans in 2022 pay for groceries, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Much has changed since the most recent farm bill was passed in 2018 — including the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia-Ukraine conflict and the changing economy, which have raised the costs associated with farming. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are pushing to update policies within the farm bill in response.

This year, a top priority for some lawmakers is to include more insurance and support for farmers.

Patrick Creamer, GOP spokesperson for the Senate Agriculture Committee said that bolstering that so-called “farm safety net” was the top request of producers throughout a listening tour across the country by Sen. John Boozman, R-Arkansas, including an August stop in Amarillo with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

The bipartisan work that has historically gone into the farm bill has been complicated with heightened Congressional disagreements across party lines over federal spending and SNAP policy. This year wouldn’t be the first time legislators couldn’t decide on a farm bill. The 2018 bill was delayed past its deadline and the 2014 version took years of haggling before passage.

After meeting with leaders from agriculture committees and the Texas Congressional delegation, Laramie Adams, national legislative director for the Texas Farm Bureau said he’s hopeful that a farm bill will be secured by the end of 2023.

“In a perfect world, we get a farm bill this year. If we don't though, let's extend it. And let's not pass a farm bill just to say we passed a farm bill,” Adams said. “We want to make sure that the farm bill is meaningful.”

Texas farmers and ranchers have watched the cost of equipment and fuel rise while market prices for products are stagnant, Adams said.

“As you look at that and inflation and adjusting for inflation, from our perspective, we need to look at strengthening crop insurance,” Adams said. “And that is not an easy task.”

Adams added that he and other advocates will use the extended time to continue pushing Congress to include stronger crop insurance. Crop insurance programs already exist under federal law, so a farm bill extension would simply postpone added support.

Farmers in the Lone Star State face unique challenges outside of climate change and inflation.

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