Agriculture Policy & Farm Bill Briefing Book
Congressional Research Service

Redistributed as a service of the National Library for the Environment

What Is "The Farm Bill"?

Geoffrey S. Becker

Federal agricultural and food policies are governed by several different laws, many of which are considered, revised, and renewed through an omnibus, multi-year "farm bill." Many provisions of the last farm bill, the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-127), expire in 2002, making reauthorization an issue for the 107th Congress.

The scope and content of a new farm bill are as yet undetermined, but likely issues are emerging. These issues are discussed in more detail in CRS Report RL30847(pdf), Agriculture: Previewing the 2002 Farm Bill.

Omnibus farm bills typically include titles on:

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. 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.

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. The levels and types of support Congress decides to provide affect not only farmers and ranchers, but also consumers, agricultural exporters, foreign competitors, farm equipment companies, agricultural investors, fertilizer and pesticide suppliers, and farm-dependent rural communities.

Finally, but not least importantly, 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."

In Congress

Both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees already are laying the groundwork for a new farm bill, holding hearings and seeking increases for agriculture in the spring budget resolution (H.Con.Res. 83). The House Agriculture Committee chairman has indicated a desire to pass at least the commodity support provisions this year. However, others have indicated that omnibus legislation, including commodity supports, might not be ready for the President's signature until the 2nd session of the 107th Congress.

CRS Products

CRS Report RL30847(pdf), Agriculture: Previewing the 2002 Farm Bill.
CRS Report RS20765, Agriculture: Prospective Issues for the 107th Congress.
CRS Report 96-900, Farm Commodity Legislation: Chronology, 1933-2000.

Page last updated April 6, 2001.

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