? _ APBB - Agriculture Policy & Farm Bill Briefing Book
12-Mar-2001; CRS Staff; 20 p.

Abstract: The 107th Congress will consider major farm legislation, commonly referred as ¨the farm bill.¨ What is it, and why is it needed?

Federal agricultural policies are governed by several different laws, many of which are considered, revised, and renewed through an omnibus, multi-year ¨farm bill.¨ Of course, these policies can be, and sometimes are, modified or overhauled by free-standing authorizing legislation, or as part of wider budget and annual appropriations laws. However, periodic ¨farm bills¨ have provided Congress, the Administration, and interest groups with an opportunity to reexamine agricultural and food issues more carefully, and address them more comprehensively.

Besides farm income and price support programs, farm bills typically include titles on agricultural trade and foreign food aid, conservation and environment, domestic food assistance, rural development, and research and education, plus, on occasion, such miscellaneous provisions as global warming, food safety, and animal health and welfare. This omnibus nature of the farm bill often creates a broad coalition of support among conflicting interests for policies that, individually, might not survive the legislative process. Among the groups lobbying Congress will be farm and commodity organizations; input suppliers; commodity handlers, processors, retailers, and exporters; foreign customers and competitors; universities and scientific organizations; domestic consumers and food assistance advocates; environmentalists, and rural community advocates. So, for example, farm state lawmakers may look to urban legislators' support for commodity price supports in exchange for their votes on domestic food aid - and vice versa.

Moreover, many provisions of the last farm bill, the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-127), expire in 2002. Without new legislation, permanent statutes would take effect. Most of these statutes were enacted decades ago and no longer may be compatible with national economic objectives, global trading rules, and federal budgetary or regulatory policies. (Many of these largely outdated permanent laws appear to have been kept on the books to help compel Congress to pay attention to national agricultural policy, in a nation where an ever-declining number of constituents live on, and make a living from, the farm.)

The 1996 farm bill had 9 titles and some 300 pages -- much shorter than the 1990 farm bill, which consisted of 25 titles and over 700 pages. Nonetheless, farm bills and the programs they encompass are complex, tightly intertwined, and intensely interactive. Changes to one program often may have unintended consequences for others. For example, a legislative change that raises corn prices must be examined for how it might change the planting decisions of those who grow other crops such as soybeans, and, in turn, the cost of the support program for soybeans. Likewise, a change in the corn program could have major implications for those who feed it to dairy cows, other livestock, and poultry; for sugar producers and processors (who can use corn syrup in place of sugar for many products); for consumers, including those on limited food budgets; and for exporters and foreign competitors. And the level and types of support provided to producers can have major impacts on the farm equipment companies, agricultural investors, fertilizer and pesticide suppliers, and farm-dependent rural communities.

Finally, but not least important, farm bills must be considered within the constraints of the federal budget and world trade agreement commitments. All of these factors are in play as the House and Senate Agriculture Committees begin the first steps in designing the next ¨farm bill.¨ [read report]

Topics: Agriculture, Legislative, Pesticides

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