Ontario Grain Farmer June/July 2022

12 THE SO CALLED "climate-smart" political agenda of U.S. President Joe Biden left producers on both sides of the border nervous about potential ripple effects on the 2023 Farm Bill. That's the piece of legislation that's been created in the U.S. every five years since 1933 to support agriculture and, most lately, nutrition and food aid. From 2017 to 2022, it funnelled a staggering $428 billion into the American food and farming sectors. Given Biden's pro-environment platform, producers wondered if the bill's conservation portion (called a "title"), which accounted for about seven per cent of the last bill's total commitment, would grow at the expense of what might be considered more produceroriented titles. These include crop insurance, disaster relief and commodities, specifically corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, rice, peanuts, dairy, and sugar. And if that was the case, would farming have to change to take advantage of conservation opportunities? Would trading partners like Canada then be expected to mirror U.S. domestic environmental practices in their own nations to do business with Americans? These are vitally important questions to the Canadian agricultural sector. But they may never be answered, pending the outcome of this fall's U.S. elections. Although Democrats started committee hearings in March to try to get a new farm bill authorized before the current one runs out, they're fighting an uphill battle. They chair the hearings now because they have a slim margin of control. But that could change. Midterm elections in the U.S. take place in November, and Americans — angry and frustrated about matters such as inflation, labour shortages and the pandemic — are expected to elect enough Republicans to Congress to change the balance of power, giving them the Farm Bill hearings chair. Political observers believe that shift could influence the farm bill's direction…but not before it stalls its progress. Republicans, expecting to take more control, aren't anxious to hurry along a new bill with Democratic features, such as more environmental emphasis. If they drag their feet into the fall — even though the current bill will expire in September 2023 and the country will have to pass ameasure extending the current authority until the next one is enacted — the Republicans like their chances of getting to fashion the new bill in their image, not Biden's. Those caught in the middle, like the highly influential U.S. National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), are trying to stop the process from grinding to a halt. NASDA is considered the nexus between the federal government and the states on agriculture and food policy. During one subcommittee hearing, Bruce Kettler, second vice-president of the organization and director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, said that timely passage of the 2023 Farm Bill is needed to give farmers confidence and clarity. "It is vital Congress provides certainty by delivering a forward-looking, fully funded farm bill, on time," he says. "If the pandemic and the recent events unfolding in Ukraine have taught us anything, it is that this farm bill and all future farm bills are an issue of national security." ENVIRONMENTAL CONSIDERATIONS NASDA has cited 10 priorities for the Farm Bill including agricultural research, animal disease prevention and management, conservation and climate resiliency, cyber The 2023 Farm Bill SHIFTING PRIORITIES MAY RETURN POWER TO FARMERS Owen Roberts security, food safety, amending regulations around hemp, addressing domestic invasive species, supporting local food systems, funding for specialty crops, and trade promotion. Whoever ends up controlling the farm bill's direction and content will need to keep Americans' steadily growing interest in the environment in mind. In April, the news and polling firm Gallup reported that for the seventh straight year, U.S. public concern about the quality of the environment is near a two-decade high, with 44 per cent of Americans worrying "a great deal" about it. Compare that to the first 15 years after Gallup began tracking this public sentiment in 2001: then, closer to a third of Americans said they worried a great deal about the environment, with the figure exceeding 40 per cent only twice, in 2001 and 2007. Still, experts expect a shift in priorities. Attorney Kayla Gebeck Carroll and Senior Policy Advisor Peter Tabor of the Washingtonbased law firm Holland and Knight, who advise clients on farm bill matters, believe Republicans will put more emphasis on programs that emphasize production and increased yields. Says Gebeck Carroll: "There will be a large focus on returning power to farmers and increasing access to new markets." IMPACT ON CANADA Innovation will also be a priority. A key message coming out of Washington is to find creative ways to solve problems through collaboration and innovation. And the likelihood of the bill being held up after the midterm election means there is even more time to identify new ways to increase revenue for farmers, ranchers, and producers. Industry News