Indiana ag leaders focus on farm bill impact


By Mia Hilkowitz | Indiana Capital Chronicle

Indiana agriculture and conservation leaders are urging U.S. Congress members to pass a new federal farm bill by the end of the year.

For Indiana — the seventh-largest agricultural exporter and ninth-largest farming state in the U.S. — the legislation could have wide ranging impacts. While many of the policies will impact the state’s 94,000 farmers, the farm bill can also influence food supply, conservation efforts and food-assistance benefits for Hoosiers.

Congress usually reauthorizes a federal farm bill every five years. The current farm bill, which former President Donald Trump signed in December 2018, was supposed to expire in 2023, but was extended through Sept. 30, 2024. The legislation funds programs in 12 different areas including crop insurance, nutrition and rural development.

Partisan division, however, has delayed the bill process, which is nearly a year behind schedule.

Brantley Seifers, national affairs director for the Indiana Farm Bureau, said his organization’s main concern with the bill is making sure it gets approved this year.

“We’ve put a lot of work into this farm bill. Our members have been advocating for this farm bill for the better part of two years now,” Seifers told the Indiana Capital Chronicle. “Making sure it gets done in this Congress and we don’t settle with a further extension is going to be very important.”

If Congress does not pass the federal farm bill by September, operations for some programs will stop completely or receive significantly less funding. Some programs supported by the bill — including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and federal crop insurance — can still be funded, however, by government appropriations.

Dan Boritt, executive director for the Indiana Wildlife Federation, also emphasized the importance of passing the legislation in 2024.

“If we aren’t able to come to an agreement on a farm bill, it would be catastrophic for conservation in the state of Indiana, and the entire country, frankly,” he said. “Agriculture is a really, really, really difficult industry to be financially successful in and these dollars allow (farmers) to take those risks, to do good things on the land that benefit all of us.”

Safety nets for Indiana farmers

The proposed House bill increases funding for specialty crops research, expands eligibility for disaster assistance, broadens safety net programs for farmers and encourages farmers to sell their products abroad, among other programs.

Seifers said he views the 2018 Farm Bill as a strong piece of legislation, which just needs tweaking. He said many of the INFB’s priorities were included in the House’s version of the bill.

“We’re not looking for huge changes in that farm bill, but we are looking for updates to that farm bill,” Seifers said. “”You look at some portions of the bill that haven’t been updated in a number of years, like the market access program and foreign market development program, both of those are still stagnant at 20 year levels.”

Part of the $1.5 trillion bill would support safety net programs and crop insurance for farmers. Seifers said Indiana farmers can recover from flooding and other disasters with this funding.

“If you go to a bank for a loan on the farm, their first question is going to be ‘what’s your crop insurance,’” Seifers said. “Having that in place and having that be strong for our members, and flexible, is going to allow them to keep working.”

Steve Howell, senior director of industry affairs for the Indiana Soybean Alliance and Indiana Corn Growers Association, supports these insurance programs. He said many Indiana soybean and corn farmers are projecting lower prices for their crops, so the extra support is important.

“Not that it’s all gloom and doom, but that is a reality that we’re facing, and that’s one reason we’ve been advocating to get a farm bill passed with additional safety net provisions or enhanced safety net provisions for our farmers,” Howell said.

As part of the bill’s Price Loss Coverage and Agriculture Risk Coverage programs, farmers can receive financial support during periods of low market prices. Essentially, farmers can receive payments to augment lost revenue if the market prices of their commodities drop below reference prices set by the farm bill. The House’s farm bill increases the statutory reference price for corn from $3.70 per bushel to $4.10, and for soybeans from $8.40 to $10.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the price of Indiana corn per bushel in May 2024 decreased by $1.89 from May 2023, and the price of soybeans decreased by $2.60. The cost of producing the crops has also increased since 2021, according to Purdue University’s Center for Commercial Agriculture.

Todd Davis, chief economist for the INFB, said in an email statement a new farm bill that increases baseline funding for crop insurance would make these safety nets for farmers more affordable.

“The combination of declining prices with increasing costs has created a profitability environment where farmers are experiencing very tight, or negative, returns over production costs,” Davis said. “Farmers protect revenue risk by purchasing crop insurance.”

Howell also sees the bill’s funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Market Development program as a benefit for Indiana’s agriculture markets. He said Indiana farmers have already been able to sell their crops in South Korea and China, and the funding could help them expand markets in Vietnam, Indonesia and Mexico.

“We continue to produce sustainably a lot of corn and soybeans in Indiana, and we just need to continue to look for domestic markets as well as foreign markets,” Howell said. “We see a lot of opportunity to sell corn and soybeans overseas.”

Several Democratic Congressmembers, including Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, have criticized the bill for limiting future updates to the formula used to calculate SNAP benefits. However, the proposed bill would allow low-income Americans who have drug conviction felonies to obtain SNAP benefits — something not allowed for under the 2018 legislation.

According to the state Division of Family Resources, almost 287,500 Indiana households received SNAP benefits in May 2024.

Conservation funding

The House version of the bill also would remove “climate sideboards” for conservation projects funded by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) dollars. Under the new bill, agencies could use these dollars to support conservation efforts that aren’t grounded in combating climate change. It would also reallocate all unobligated IRA funding to established, locally-led conservation programs, and invests IRA dollars to create several new conservation programs.

Boritt said the lack of these climate-oriented requirements should not stop the bill from passing. He said the Indiana Wildlife Federation’s top priority for the farm bill was to get permanent baseline funding for conservation efforts. While the House bill removed the climate requirements, it does permanently move IRA funding to these conservation efforts.

“I fully acknowledge that there are concerns about the lack of climate sideboards, but the billions of dollars that have been brought into the baseline of the Farm Bill, I think are a huge, huge win for Indiana,” Boritt said.

He also said that nearly 1.3 million acres of land in Indiana was protected under the 2018 Farm Bill, which funded the U.S. Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Reserve Program. This program pays farmers to keep environmentally sensitive lands — like lands with riparian buffers, grassed waterways and trees — out of agricultural production. He said the farm bill is “truly a game changer.”

“In a state like Indiana, it is without question, the most important conservation funding dollars we receive,” Boritt said. “The Farm Bill is of the utmost importance, and I’ll say that a million times, but it is truly the biggest driver of conservation in our state.”

Mia Hilkowitz is a student at Indiana University Bloomington studying journalism, law and public policy, and human-centered computing. She has reported on city government and breaking news for the Indiana Daily Student, where she also served as a news desk editor. She also an intern for IU’s Arnolt Center for Investigative Journalism. Indiana Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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