House Republicans Waste Their Chance at a Farm Bill

The Farm Bill may have been Congress’s best shot to find common ground and pass bipartisan legislation this year, and they just blew it.

After years of listening sessions and hearings with people all over the country, the House Agriculture committee will vote on its version of a Farm Bill today, and the only question is - who ordered the Farm Bill they are serving up? House Democrats were shut out of the bill-writing process, and the final product seems to be part ideological attack on the environment and struggling families and part nothing-burger policy that serves no one.

If you haven’t read about this bad bill yet, my colleagues have summarized the egregious attacks on clean water, affordable food, pollinators and other endangered species. It’s pretty nasty stuff.

But I’m here to write about the nothing-burger. Once you get past the sneaky favors to the chemical industry, the base text of the Conaway Bill is light on substance. If lawmakers were really listening to farmers and conservationists for the past few years, they would have found that we agree on the importance of soil health. Farmers and consumers both want a farm bill that invests in our future and builds healthy soil that we need to grow high-yielding and nutritious crops, prevent runoff, filter out harmful chemicals that threaten our water, and support a diverse ecosystem.

One would think that lawmakers would take advantage of bipartisan consensus on the importance of soil health and do something meaningful to promote soil-health practices; for example, Congress could get rid of barriers in the crop insurance program for cover crop farmers, or build more incentives for soil-building practices in the crop insurance program.  Though the words “soil health” are sprinkled throughout the Conaway Bill like powdered sugar, there is nothing nourishing to bite into. 

The only piece of the Conaway bill that provides more than lip-service to soil health is the creation of a conservation practice database to study the benefits of conservation practices. Data is important, don’t get me wrong, but the provision is too light on specifics. The House farm bill cuts the Conservation Stewardship Program, cuts conservation funding, and completely fails to make any meaningful changes to the crop insurance program.  When you consider all the egregious environmental attacks, it’s just not a poisoned-sugar pill that soil health advocates would be tempted to swallow.  

UPDATE: Read this blog from my colleague on how the Conaway bill also completely missed out on the opportunities to make pro-active bipartisan food waste policies.

About the Authors

Lara Bryant

Deputy Director, Water & Agriculture; Nature Program

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