The Farm Bill: Obstacle, or Opportunity?

The farm bill is an omnibus, multi-year law that governs an array of agricultural and food programs. Titles in the most recent farm bill encompassed farm commodity revenue supports, agricultural conservation, trade, and foreign food assistance, farm credit, research, rural development, forestry, bioenergy, horticulture, and domestic nutrition assistance. Typically renewed about every five or six years, the farm bill provides a predictable opportunity for policymakers to comprehensively and periodically address agricultural and food issues.

CRS “What is the Farm Bill”

Given the impact and predictability of the farm bill in shaping U.S. federal farm policy, the AFA team is identifying opportunities for intervention, or “OFIs” for the next farm bill.

Each OFI expands farm bill benefits to encourage the production of plant-based foods, thereby making them cheaper and more accessible to every American.

The most recent farm bill—the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, P.L. 115-334—was enacted into law in December 2018 and expires in 2023. It succeeded the Agricultural Act of 2014 (P.L. 113-79).

CRS “What is the Farm Bill”

Title Ten: Horticulture:

2018 Farm Bill Primer: Specialty Crops and Organic Agriculture

The 2018 farm bill (Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, P.L. 115-334) reauthorized and expanded existing programs and policies administered by the U.S. Department of

Agriculture (USDA) supporting fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and greenhouse and nursery products, among other specialty crops. A range of initiatives support specialty crops, including market promotion, plant pest and disease prevention, and public research. The 2018 farm bill also reauthorized and expanded existing support for USDA certified organic agricultural production.  – Read more


There are two ways to fund farm bill programs: Mandatory and Discretionary

  • MANDATORY FUNDING. These programs receive funds as needed without requiring annual approval by Congress. (Some mandatory funding technically is included in the appropriations bill, but it’s more like paying off a line of credit that funded a previous obligation, vs deciding to pay for something that you still have the option to forgo).
  • DISCRETIONARY FUNDING. These programs are funded explicitly on an annual basis by Congress via the agriculture appropriations bill (2018 bill for FY2019)
    (Note that some programs and agencies, like FDA, are funded by the ag appropriations bill, but are NOT authorized by the farm bill. Yeah, it makes the analysis a bit complicated.)

With mandatory and discretionary spending appropriations combined, the FY2019 agriculture total is nearly $152 billion.1 Subtracting out FDA, but leaving in WIC and Child nutrition, brings the FY2019 farm bill outlays to $149 billion.

Mandatory Spending Outlays by Year
(typically $80 billion / year)
Discretionary Spending Outlays by Year
(typically $25 billion / year)
Note: these following pie charts reflect MANDATORY FUNDING PROGRAMS only.

Note: this pie chart reflects DISCRETIONARY FUNDED PROGRAMS like SCBGP or AFRI. Some items in the pie chart, like the FDA, are not authorized by the farm bill, yet get funded through the annual agriculture appropriations bill.


USDA’s primer on the 2018 farm bill including implementation progress reports.

Congressional Research Service (CRS) explanation of 2018 farm bill programs.

Longer CRS Primer

2018 Farm Bill Legislation text, sponsors, progress through Congress. Previous Farm Bills.

TITLE I – Commodity Programs

Dairy Margin Protections

Dairy farmers enrolled in various dairy margin protection programs get payments from the federal government when costs increase and sales decrease. Approximately 3/4 of dairy farmers are enrolled2.

Dairy producers can access a web-based decision tool, developed in a partnership with the University of Wisconsin, to evaluate various scenarios using different coverage levels available through the new Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program.

Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC)

ARC and PLC pay farmers when yields (ARC) or prices (PLC) fall below expectations. In 2019, Corn growers received $1.56 billion, for example. Farmers can enroll in ARC or PLC but not both. Total program costs range from $3 billion to $7 billion per year.3 Eligible recipients are limited to $125,000 per year however, a single farm can include multiple eligible recipients.4

TITLE II – Conservation

Conservation Reserve Program (CRP):

The CRP is a program administered by the Farm Service Agency to conserve land cover by removing land from agricultural use. By reestablishing the natural land cover, water and soil will be conserved, and wildlife habitats will thrive. Farmers are paid a yearly rental payment for this use of the land, and the contracts last from 10-15 years.

Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP):

This program partners with various regional entities for conservation projects. These organizations, such as Indian tribes, non profits, state and local governments and universities, apply for funding on the basis of their projects being innovative and impactful solutions to natural resource challenges and the proven ability to manage and implement such projects. The land can be private or public, with demonstrated conservation needs.

Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP):

CSP is for farmers wishing to further improve conservation efforts on working lands to improve grazing conditions, increase crop resiliency, or develop wildlife habitat. The CSP provides technical and financial assistance for farmers who need help with soil erosion or excess water problems, as well as helping to reduce airborne particle pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

NRCS Conservation Programs:

Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG):

These grants are awarded by a competitive system to fund and test new programs to further natural resource conservation on private agricultural lands. The groups that win funding must match the grant one to one when they apply them to programs such as on-farm trials. The farm trials work with NRCS to implement and measure the outcomes of innovative practices for conservation. Payment is provided to producers to offset any losses from the new methods used. Soil health demo trials test the impact of new soil conservation practices.


  • Borlaug Fellowship Program 2019: The Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellowship Program promotes food security and economic growth by providing training and collaborative research opportunities to fellows from developing and middle-income countries. The fellowship participant works in the US with a university mentor, and that mentor later visits the participant’s home country to further advise on agricultural issues.
  • Local and Regional Food Aid Procurement: Through the Local and Regional Food Aid Procurement (LRP) Program, FAS is authorized to partner with private voluntary organizations, cooperatives, and the World Food Program to implement field-based projects that provide development assistance and emergency relief using locally procured commodities.
  • Agricultural Trade Promotion and Facilitation: The Agricultural Trade Promotion Program (ATP) will help U.S. agricultural exporters develop new markets and will help mitigate the adverse effects of other countries’ tariff and non-tariff barriers. The ATP provides cost-share assistance to eligible U.S. organizations for activities such as consumer advertising, public relations, point-of-sale demonstrations, participation in trade fairs and exhibits, market research, and technical assistance. The ATP is available to all sectors of U.S. agriculture, including fish and forest product producers, mainly through partnerships with non-profit national and regional organizations. FAS administers the ATP under authorities of the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act.

TITLE IV – Nutrition Programs

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP):  SNAP provides nutrition benefits to supplement the food budget of needy families so they can purchase healthy food and move towards self-sufficiency.
  • The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP):  The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) is a federal program that helps supplement the diets of low-income Americans by providing them with emergency food assistance at no cost. USDA provides 100% American-grown USDA Foods and administrative funds to states to operate TEFAP.
  • Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR): The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) provides USDA Foods to income-eligible households living on Indian reservations and to Native American households residing in designated areas near reservations or in Oklahoma. USDA distributes both food and administrative funds to participating Indian Tribal Organizations and state agencies to operate FDPIR.
  • Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) works to improve the health of low-income persons at least 60 years of age by supplementing their diets with nutritious USDA Foods. USDA distributes both food and administrative funds to participating states and Indian Tribal Organizations to operate CSFP.

TITLE V – Credit

  • Farm Ownership Loans: Farm Ownership Loans offer up to 100 percent financing and are a valuable resource to help farmers and ranchers purchase or enlarge family farms, improve and expand current operations, increase agricultural productivity, and assist with land tenure to save farmland for future generations. With a maximum loan amount of $600,000 ($300,150 for Beginning Farmer Down Payment), all FSA Direct Farm Ownership Loans are financed and serviced by the Agency through local Farm Loan Officers and Farm Loan Managers. The funding comes from Congressional appropriations as part of the USDA budget.

TITLE VI – Rural Development

  • RUS: USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) provides much-needed infrastructure or infrastructure improvements to rural communities. These include water and waste treatment, electric power and telecommunications services. All of these services help to expand economic opportunities and improve the quality of life for rural residents.
  • BioPreferred Program: The BioPreferred Program is a USDA-led initiative that aims to assist in the development and expansion of markets for biobased products. The program was created by the 2002 Farm Bill (legislation), and expanded as part of the 2014 Farm Bill. The increased development, purchase, and use of biobased products will reduce our Nation’s reliance on petroleum, and increase the use of renewable agricultural materials.

BioPreferred is transforming the marketplace for biobased products through two initiatives:

  • mandatory purchasing requirements for Federal agencies and Federal contractors
  • voluntary product certification and labeling
  • Interagency Task Force on Rural Water Quality: This task force was formed to help communities which lack capacity and resources and require technical assistance and partners to help them protect public health from a variety of water quality contaminants in ground water and surface water; and address long-term infrastructure needs, source water protection outside of their jurisdiction and control, and preparation and response to water quality contamination and extreme weather events.
  • Council on Rural Community Innovation and Economic Development:  The purpose of the Council is to enhance the efforts of the Federal Government to address the needs of rural areas in the United States by-

(1) establishing a council to better coordinate Federal programs directed to rural communities;

(2) maximizing the impact of Federal investment to promote economic prosperity and quality of life in rural communities in the United States; and

(3) using innovation to resolve local and regional challenges faced by rural communities.

TITLE VII – Research and Related Matters

  • Title 7 reauthorizes various boards and programs from previous bills that allow the USDA to conduct agricultural research, and provide support for cooperative research, extension, and post-secondary agricultural education programs at the state level.
  • More details from the Congressional Research Service.

TITLE VIII – Forestry

  • Good Neighbor Authority: Good Neighbor Authority allows the USDA Forest Service to enter into agreements with state forestry agencies to do the critical management work to keep our forests healthy and productive.
  • Tribal Forest Management Demonstration Project:  The Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary (of Agriculture) may carry out demonstration projects by which federally recognized Indian Tribes or Tribal organizations may contract to perform administrative, management, and other functions of programs of the Tribal Forest Protection Act of 2004 (25 U.S.C. 3115a et seq.) through contracts entered into under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act.

TITLE IX – Energy

  • Definition update for Biorefinery Assistance Program: This program provides loan guarantees up to $250 million to assist in the development, construction and retrofitting of new and emerging technologies. These technologies are: advanced biofuels, renewable chemicals and biobased products.
  • Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels: This program’s goal is to increase the production of advanced biofuels. Must be derived from renewable biomass, other than corn kernel starch.
  • Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) Grants: The program provides guaranteed loan financing and grant funding to agricultural producers and rural small businesses for renewable energy systems or to make energy efficiency improvements. Agricultural producers may also apply for new energy efficient equipment and new system loans for agricultural production and processing.

TITLE X – Horticulture

  • Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP): FMPP’s purpose is to support the development, coordination, and expansion of direct-producer-to-consumer markets to increase access to and availability of locally and regionally produced agricultural products. AMS will competitively award grants to eligible applicants for projects that meet the purpose of this grant program.
  • Hemp: Many of the rules governing hemp are still being made.
  • Plant Variety Protection Office: The Plant Variety Protection Office (PVPO) provides intellectual property protection to breeders of new varieties of sexually reproduced, tuber propagated, and asexually reproduced plant varieties.  Implementing the Plant Variety Protection Act (PVPA), we examine new applications and grant certificates that protect varieties for 20 years (25 years for vines and trees).  Our certificates are recognized worldwide and allow faster filing of PVP in other countries.  Certificate owners have rights to exclude others from marketing and selling their varieties, manage the use of their varieties by other breeders, and enjoy legal protection of their work.
  • Organic Agricultural Product Imports Interagency Working Group: The Secretary and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall jointly establish a working group to facilitate coordination and information sharing between the Department of Agriculture and U.S. Customs and Border Protection relating to imports of organically produced agricultural products.

TITLE XI – Crop Insurance

  • CROP INSURANCE: This program covers both yield and revenue coverage, as well as whole-farm coverage and livestock coverage.
  • Standard Reinsurance Agreement (SRA)
    • This Agreement establishes the terms and conditions under which the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC), supervised by the Risk Management Agency (RMA) as authorized in section 226A of the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996, will provide subsidy and reinsurance on eligible crop insurance contracts sold by the Company. This Agreement is authorized by the Federal Crop Insurance Act (Act) and regulations of FCIC published at 7 C.F.R. chapter IV (regulations).

TITLE XII – Miscellaneous

  • The Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program: The Gus NIP grant program presents the opportunity to bring together stakeholders from various parts of the food and healthcare systems to foster understanding of how they might improve the health and nutrition status of participating households 1) receiving incentives through the purchase of fruits and vegetables, 2) prescribed fresh fruits and vegetables in addition to nutrition educational opportunities and 3) offer incentive program training and technical assistance to applicants and grantees, facilitating growth in states with low participation, and collecting and aggregating core data sets from eligible entities through a central system to capture program success and identify best practices and areas to improve on a broad scale.
  • Tribal Consultation: The Office of Tribal Relations serves as the single point of contact for consultation with American Indian and Alaskan Native Governments and continues to refine the consultation process to ensure strong partnerships that will preserve Tribal sovereignty and result in high quality service for farmers, ranchers, consumers, and other constituents.
  • Pima Cotton Trust Fund: This fund is intended to reduce the economic injury to domestic manufacturers resulting from tariffs on cotton fabric that are higher than tariffs on certain apparel articles made of cotton fabric. 

The 2018 Farm Bill allocates $16 million in Commodity Credit Corporation funds for each year through 2023 to be distributed as follows:

  • 25 percent to one or more nationally recognized associations established for the promotion of pima cotton for use in textile and apparel goods;
  • 25 percent to yarn spinners of pima cotton that produce ring spun cotton yarns in the United States, to be allocated in accordance with Sec. 12314(b)(2)(A) and Sec. 12314(b)(2)(B); and
  • 50 percent to manufacturers that cut and sew cotton shirts in the United States and that certify that they used imported cotton fabric in during the prior calendar year.
  • Wool Trust Fund:  This fund is intended to reduce the economic injury to domestic manufacturers resulting from tariffs on wool fabric that are higher than tariffs on certain apparel articles made of wool fabric. The Agriculture Wool Trust is a mechanism for four types of annual payments:
  • Payments to Manufacturers of Certain Worsted Wool Fabrics
  • Payments Under the Monetization of the Wool Tariff Rate Quota
  • Wool Yarn, Wool Fiber, and Wool Top Duty Compensation Payments
  • Refund of Duties Paid on Imports of Certain Wool Products
  • Dairy Business Innovation Initiatives: The Dairy Business Innovation (DBI) Initiatives support dairy businesses in the development, production, marketing and distribution of dairy products. DBI Initiatives provide direct technical assistance and grants to dairy businesses, including niche dairy products, such as specialty cheese, or dairy products derived from the milk of a dairy animal, including cow, sheep and goat milk.
  • Sheep Production and Marketing Grant Program: The Sheep Production & Marketing Grant Program seeks to develop solutions for practical problems on a national basis and address the needs of the entire sheep industry, while focusing on the measurable benefits for sheep producers, encouraging partnerships among other sheep industry organizations, and reducing duplication of effort among participating organizations.
  • Feasibility Study on Livestock Dealer Statutory Trust: Much like the existing packer and poultry trusts, the amendment requires livestock dealers to hold all livestock purchased, and if livestock has been resold, the receivables or proceeds from such sale, in trust for the benefit of all unpaid cash sellers of livestock until full payment has been received by those sellers. Dealers whose average annual livestock purchases do not exceed $100,000 are exempt.

Livestock sellers who do not receive timely payment from a dealer may file claims on the dealer statutory trust. To be valid, trust claims must be filed within 30 days of the final date for making payment, or within 15 business days after the seller receives notice of a dishonored payment. Dealers who receive a trust claim notice are required to give notice within 15 days to anyone holding a lien on the livestock held in the trust.

  • Veteran Farmer or Rancher (12306): As a veteran farmer or rancher, you are eligible for certain benefits designed to help you as you start your operation. These benefits include:
  • Exemption from paying the administrative fee for catastrophic and additional coverage policies;
  • Additional 10 percentage points of premium subsidy for additional coverage policies that have premium subsidy;
  • Use of the previous producer’s production history, with permission, for the specific acreage transferred to you if you were previously involved in the decision making or physical activities on any farm that produced the crop or livestock; and
  • An increase in the substitute Yield Adjustment, which allows you to replace a low yield due to an insured cause of loss, from 60 to 80 percent of the applicable transitional yield (T-Yield).
  • Feral Swine Eradication and Control Pilot Program (FSCP): The Feral Swine Eradication and Control Pilot Program (FSCP) was established by the 2018 Farm Bill to respond to the threat feral swine pose to agriculture, native ecosystems, and human and animal health. USDA is focusing efforts through this pilot where feral swine pose the highest threat. Pilot projects will consist broadly of three coordinated components: 1) feral swine removal by APHIS; 2) restoration efforts supported by NRCS; and 3) assistance to producers for feral swine control provided through grants with non-federal partners.

Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO): The new Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) program was established in the Agricultural Act of 2018 to encourage and assist socially disadvantaged and veteran farmers and ranchers (SDVFRs) and beginning farmers and ranchers (BFRs) in the ownership and operation of farms and ranches through education and training; and promote equitable participation in the agricultural programs of USDA.