AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – As the Texas Panhandle region continues to go through record-breaking drought conditions, farmers and their output continue to be impacted, whether it is their overall crop output or the resources that are available for the livestock they own. 

Even with these considerations, farmers in the region also have to consider the decreased presence of the Ogallala Aquifer, impacting the area’s water supply and therefore, impacting the farmers’ crops and livestock. Water supply is something that they may need assistance with sooner rather than later, depending on how dire conditions get. 

At the federal government level, farmers are able to access assistance for these kinds of conditions through programs funded by the overarching Farm Bill, a piece of legislation passed every five years by lawmakers. 

What is the Farm Bill? 

According to information from the Congressional Research Service Office, the Farm Bill is an “omnibus, multiyear law that governs an array of agricultural and food programs.” This gives lawmakers in the United States Congress an opportunity to address agricultural and food issues every five years. 

According to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, the first Farm Bill was passed in 1933, as part of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Initially starting by centering on farm commodity program support, focusing on commodities including corn, cotton, wheat, peanuts and dairy, officials with the Congressional Research Service Office said that the Farm Bill expanded its reach in the early 1970s, covering various programs including nutrition as well as conservation research. 

The last Farm Bill was signed by then-President Donald Trump in 2018. The total cost of the “mandatory programs” included in the bill was expected to cost around $428 billion over its five-year duration, according to the Congressional Research Service Office. 

Some of the programs in the most recent 2018 Farm Bill include: 

  • Programs that provide support for major commodity crops, as well as disaster assistance for those crops; 
  • Conservation programs that encourage “environmental stewardship of farmlands” and improved management; 
  • U.S. agricultural export programs and international food assistance programs; 
  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, as well as other programs which provide nutrition assistance for low-income households; 
  • Programs that offer direct government loans and give producers the chance to purchase land and operate farms and ranches; 
  • Programs that support rural housing, community facilities, business and utility programs; 
  • Programs that support agricultural research; 
  • Programs that “encourage the development of farm and community renewable energy systems;” 
  • Crop Insurance programs that “enhance risk management through… the Federal Crop Insurance Program.” 

According to Farmers.Gov, the Farm Bill “provides support, certainty, and stability to our nation’s farmers, ranchers, and forest managers by enhancing farm support programs, improving crop insurance, maintaining disaster programs, and promoting and supporting voluntary conservation.” 

U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington – Texas District 19 said contributing factors, including this time of drought, as well as increased input costs and inflation, are making it difficult for farmers to make a profit. Arrington said that farmers are relying on crop insurance, provided through the 2018 Farm Bill, more than ever, counting on assistance from the federal government to get by. 

As a farmer himself, U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas – Oklahoma District 3 said he has gone through the farming struggles firsthand. According to his website, Lucas previously chaired the House Agriculture Committee and helped write the Farm Bills in 2002, 2008, 2014 and 2018. Through his experience, Lucas said the bill addressed both farmers and ranchers having a safety net from the federal government if situations do not go as planned. 

Fortunately, though, there are programs within the farm bill to help producers survive this kind of stuff. I chaired the Ag Committee when we did the 2014 Farm Bill and we reauthorized crop insurance… a concept where you pay a premium and you get protection for both weather and price,” Lucas said. “But in the ‘14 Farm Bill, we also addressed the livestock industry with the livestock forage disaster program… where you buy a policy at the beginning of the crop year and if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, you get some help.” 

However, U.S. Senator Ben Ray Lujan – New Mexico, said farmers and ranchers may not be familiar with how to access the programs in the Farm Bill, which he stressed are completely necessary among the fear the recent drought conditions have brought for some farmers. 

“One of the things that I’ve discovered is not everyone is familiar with these programs and some of them can get complex. There are some technical responsibilities with them,” Lujan said. “So what I figured is we need… to make sure that farmers and ranchers, especially the smaller producers, know how to go after these programs as well. But they are there, I would just argue they can be more robust.” 

What are lawmakers doing now to help create the 2023 Farm Bill? 

While the 2018 Farm Bill continues to be in effect, lawmakers are starting to research the upcoming 2023 Farm Bill. According to officials from the Congressional Research Service Office, lawmakers get the chance for their constituents as well as their other advocacy groups to be a part of the creation of the upcoming legislation. 

Through the process, lawmakers hear from stakeholders, along with national groups, state organizations, nutrition and public health officials as well as various advocacy groups, about what priorities they want to see included in the upcoming legislation. 

Lucas said the process for the 2023 Farm Bill starts by looking backward, with lawmakers hosting a series of hearings surrounding the 2018 legislation, both in Washington D.C. and regionally. The goal of these hearings is to find out what worked as well as what did not work in the legislation and proceed from there on the new version. 

“By summertime, we’ll know from the budget people, the appropriations or the budget committee process, how many dollars we have to spend on the farm bill,” Lucas said. “We’ll take the money that’s available to us, the policy issues that have been brought to our attention and craft… It’ll be taking what we have and improving and making corrections and reallocating resources to be more efficient. That makes it a lot simpler when you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It’s a whole lot better.” 

During that time, lawmakers from around the country are expected to meet with constituents regarding the upcoming legislation, giving farmers and ranchers the chance to let them know their current situation and what tools they would like to see within the 2023 legislation. U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez – New Mexico District 3 said these conversations with constituents help shape what projects their respective lawmakers should champion in the Farm Bill process. 

“We are here to serve our ranchers and farmers and I need to hear from them directly about what you need to see us doing because that will inform the programs and the projects that I champion,” she said. 

According to reports from The Hill, officials from advocacy groups and other organizations expect the 2023 Farm Bill to consist of programs to help curb the impact of climate change, including the shift of some food production because of ongoing drought conditions, along with climate and weather patterns. 

Leger Fernandez said she expects the upcoming Farm Bill legislation to focus on how to make agriculture more sustainable, using the most cost-effective methods to deliver water and help New Mexico farmers, along with other regional agriculture occupation-holders. 

Lujan’s goal is to use his August recess to center his conversations with constituents surrounding the Farm Bill, hosting roundtables and town halls with producers in different portions of New Mexico. He said he believes that it will help the state create “a stronger blueprint,” not only for New Mexico producers but producers across the Western region of the state. 

“I would say that Western priorities are getting more attention and they are being lifted up. And every week, we have a new victory,” Lujan said. “But what it comes down to is creating awareness of challenges that our producers are facing in the west and ensuring that they’re able to qualify for these programs or that the formulas will include these producers across the country…  But this next farm bill will be a real test. And we’re going to work diligently to ensure that this farm bill is as supportive of Western producers as it is producers anywhere else in America.” 

Arrington’s goal in this process is to look at, and consider, the overall landscape when it comes to crafting the 2023 Farm Bill. This includes the potential for continued supply chain problems linked to the ongoing conflicts in Eastern Europe along with inflation. 

“That’s when we’ve got to look at all this in the context of a new Farm Bill,” he said. “Look at the entire landscape, the current market, you know, the supply chain disruptions, like I said, the input cost problems in the next Farm Bill to make sure the safety net is going to be more meaningful and more effective than it is currently.” 

Lucas said portions of the 2018 Farm Bill will begin to expire in October 2023, with programs expiring each crop cycle. This gives lawmakers some time to extend the previous Farm Bill a little while, as negotiations continue for the new legislation. However, an extension is not something Lucas is looking for. 

“I’d like to have a new five-year bill. But in the past sometimes you’ve had to take the old and for an extra year or two to get there,” he said. “The point is we have to have a Farm Bill. We have to have a safety net and I hope that all of my colleagues in Congress (and) in our region of the country will understand how important this is to survive economically in the south (and) in the great Southwest.” 

What is the Farm Bill’s overall impact?

Overall, Lucas said that the Farm Bill every five years does not matter to the farmer doing the work every day. However, he stressed that it does matter to the people associated with that farmer. 

“The Farm Bill matters to the farmers’ banker. It matters to the farmers’ landlord, it matters to the farmers’ spouse, it matters to the farmers’ in-laws, it matters to the people you might rent the farm from,” Lucas said.  “So you have to have every tool to protect that investment and protect yourself… There’s so much money involved. No one can take any chances. The bank examiners won’t allow a banker to operate the way we did 30-40 years ago and you’ve got to help the banker be able to help you, especially if you’re young or a beginning farmer.” 

While there have been issues that lawmakers have had to consider in the development of past Farm Bills, Arrington said this may be the most important agriculture legislation since he took office. 

“I’d say that in my lifetime, there’s probably not a more important Farm Bill, and a more important time to get ag policies right,” Arrington said, “so that we can continue to feed our own citizens, and to make sure that people aren’t having to make really hard trade-offs because they can’t afford to heat and cool their home. They can’t put gas in their cars. And they’re having a difficult time just buying groceries for their families. So that makes this Farm Bill, I think, the most critical in my lifetime.” 

Lujan said residents of the United States, including regional residents from New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, need to understand the process of how food gets to the grocery store.

“While I appreciate grocery stores, they’re not the ones that make it. They act as a vehicle to get it to us. It’s these families that have worked oftentimes for generations. They get up before the sun comes up and they go to bed after the sun goes down. They’re out there in the beating sun working together, producing whatever it may be,” Lujan said. “If it wasn’t for them sacrificing every day, we wouldn’t have what ultimately ends up on our plates. That’s the reason that these programs need to work for our producers. They work hard every day, and they’re out there putting their time into making sure that everything’s healthy on their land. But some of these programs are built to ensure that during tough times especially, there’s help for that resiliency that’s needed. So I hope we can all come together to support our producers in New Mexico and Texas and across the country.”