Inflation and increased food costs are driving up the price tag for the 2023 Farm Bill above $1 trillion, according to American Farm Bureau Economist Shelby Myers.
Myers was part of a panel of speakers at the Farm Bill conference held June 25 at the 100th Annual Convention of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation at the New Orleans Marriott.
On the panel with Myers were Samantha Buchalter, vice-president of The Russell Group, Gary Adams, President and CEO of the National Cotton Council, and Tara Smith, executive vice-president of Michael Torrey Associates. American Farm Bureau Federation Senior Director of Government Affairs Andrew Walmsley moderated the conference.
Myers said according to Congressional Budget Office estimates inflation and rising food costs would place funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at $1.228 trillion over 10 years. She said SNAP funding would make up 76% of 2023 Farm Bill spending, while farm and conservation programs would make up the remaining 24%. Given those figures, Myers said it’s likely funding for programs like crop insurance will remain flat.
Smith seemed confident Congress could still make positive changes in crop insurance programs despite a flat budget.
“Because of the funny math that we use with with Congress and with budgets, there are ways that you can actually make changes to crop insurance policies,” said Smith. “We can still make improvements, or even create new policies that won’t have that budgetary effect.”
Smith said for Louisiana, crop insurance does have some gaps and deficiencies that Congress could correct in the new Farm Bill.
“Crop insurance is designed to be a big tent and cover a little bit of everybody,” Smith said. “I know that there are some commodities that are produced in Louisiana that maybe don’t have a policy at all right now, like poultry.
“So, I think about opportunities for producers who maybe don’t have a policy at all to get one moving forward. I also see an opportunity to find ways to come up with less expensive policies to cover very specific risks for farmers in Louisiana, whether that’s a hurricane policy or a margin insurance policy to help with input costs.”
The possibility crop insurance programs could be linked to climate initiatives concerned Adams, especially for the cotton industry.
“I think that puts too much restriction on crop insurance programs and undermines what the intent is of the safety net,” said Adams. “I think the reality is there’s always going to be weather events that may come along that put a producer in a bind and they may, occasionally, have to do some tillage. We don’t want that some type of issues there to reflect back on their availability for support.”
Louisiana Fifth District Congresswoman Julia Letlow, a Republican from Start, La., attended the conference and took copious notes. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee and Subcommittee on Agriculture, Letlow said attending the Louisiana Farm Bureau convention proved to be invaluable.
“It’s like hitting the gold mine because everyone’s here in one place, said Letlow. “I can talk to so many of our farmers and ranchers and loggers and just listen to them and their needs and just hit everybody all at once. I can take all of that back up with me to Washington and make sure their voices are being heard and that I’m being the best representative I can possibly be.”
Congress is holding listening sessions on the 2023 Farm Bill to prepare for debate in the near future.