The Hill | Five Fights Brewing in the Crucial $1.4 Trillion Farm Bill

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The future of American food production is up for grabs this year.

With the nation’s farm bill expiring this September — along with a wide array of crucial programs that put food on American plates — lawmakers are on the clock to craft a farm bill that can pass the divided Congress. 

The House and Senate agriculture committees will hold a series of hearings akin to a large and acrimonious family Thanksgiving: heated debates with everyone united in the desire to fill their plates. 

Among the dinner guests: big agriculture lobbyists, farm-to-table advocates, child nutrition groups, conservation organizations, climate change activists, U.S. states seeking support for fighting wildfires, droughts and other disasters — and of course the lawmakers themselves. 

Here are the five biggest fault lines shaping up this year, from the upcoming battle over everything from $20 billion in climate funding to the question of what to do with the nation’s animal waste.

How much can we afford?

The biggest hurdle for this year’s farm bill is the same as every other bill moving through the divided Congress: it needs enough votes to pass. 

And that will likely require cobbling together votes on both sides of the aisle, which means going far enough on issues like climate change and food benefits to incentivize Democrats without scaring off too many Republicans with the price tag. 

“We keep hearing that this needs to be a value-neutral bill — no new moneys,” Vanessa García Polanco, a lobbyist for the Young Farmer’s Coalition, told The Hill.

At the same time, existing federal agriculture dollars aren’t going as far as they used to — eaten up by rising prices for fuel, equipment and fertilizer. To make matters worse, American agriculture has been pounded by years of extreme weather — from floods and tornadoes to wildfires and flash drought — and the aftermath of former President Trump’s trade war with China. 

Some Republicans propose to square that circle by cutting SNAP, the food assistance program that accounts for about 80 percent of farm bill spending. On Tuesday, Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) introduced legislation requiring SNAP recipients to work.

But President Biden and Senate Democrats are sure to balk at any significant cuts to SNAP, and the program isn’t the only big-ticket item jostling for funding. 

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) will join the major commodities lobbies, like the National Corn Growers Association, in pushing for a permanent disaster package: an attempt to end the system of agriculture having to continually seek “ad hoc” disaster declarations.