Senate’s Farm Bill Moves Forward—But What Is It, Anyway?

From food assistance for the poor to subsidies for a corporate food system, the nation’s next farm bill is taking shape.
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The farm bill is a colossal piece of highly partisan legislation passed every five years. But why is the farm bill so important, and how does it work?

Photo by Dan Chung/Getty Images

The Senate Agriculture Committee just passed its version of a farm bill in a 20-1 vote today. It’s one more step in what has been a delayed journey to pass a 2018–2022 bill before the current one expires in September.

The farm bill is a colossal piece of highly partisan legislation passed every five years. It sets federal food policy, including determining where about $100 billion a year in taxpayer money is spent. These allocations impact farming livelihoods, how food is grown, and what kinds of food are grown, touching everything from climate change (this Senate bill includes a program that would pay farmers for building soil and measuring soil carbon) to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (protected under this Senate bill).

Next, this bill will be considered by the full Senate. Because it’s a strongly bipartisan measure, its chances of passage are good. Meanwhile, the House Republican version of a bill was already defeated in May, and House leadership has said it will try again with its bill on June 22. Then the Senate and House will negotiate.

Why is the farm bill so important, and how does it work? In this video, the Food & Environment Reporting Network explains the bill that dictates the way we produce and eat food.