The Farm Bill: A Very Brief History
I am an avid reader of Jerry Hagstrom’s Hagstrom Report, which I subscribe to and consider well worth the price. He not only tracks farm and agriculture policy, but explains it in ways that I can actually understand.
Sometimes, his articles go to the National Journal and other places with open access. This one gives a lucid history of the farm bill along with the politics of the current congressional impasse.
The history matters because the farm bill is otherwise inexplicable.
Here’s how we got to this point:
- 1933 Congress passes the Agricultural Adjustment Act to deal with commodity surpluses that nobody has any money to buy during the Great Depression. The bill included production.
- 1936 Supreme Court rules production controls unconstitutional. Congress passes the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act to deal with this decision and the consequences of the Dust Bowl.
- 1938 Congress passes new Agricultural Adjustment Act (this includes sections of the 1933 law that were unaffected by the Court ruling, the 1936 conservation law, and new commodity legislation that meets the Court’s standards).
- 1949 Congress passes law giving high, fixed-support prices that trigger subsidy payments when market prices fall below certain levels.
Since then whenever Congress passes new farm bills, it suspends the 1938 and 1949 commodity titles for specific periods of time (the alternative would be to amend those laws, or pass new laws that will be permanent and difficult to change).
- 1964 Congress passes Food Stamp Act
- 1977 SNAP incorporated into farm bill.
Hagstrom points out that SNAP does not have permanent authorization; it expires with the farm bill. But it is an entitlement, meaning that anyone who qualifies gets funded. This, however, requires congressional appropriations.
So everything is up to Congress, and none of the reasonable options look possible.
Sad. Infuriating, actually.