Dave Armstrong
Dave Armstrong

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Every five years, the agriculture industry watches with a mix of anticipation and anguish as the process of renewing the U.S. Farm Bill unfolds.

The modern Farm Bill traces its origins to the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, the first major federal legislation aimed at relieving an economic crisis then facing farmers, caused by the Great Depression. The Food Stamp Act of 1964 became part of the Farm Bill and marked a shift towards addressing both agricultural and nutritional issues.

In the late 20th century, environmental and conservation programs were introduced to encourage sustainable farming practices, soil and water conservation, and the protection of natural resources.

Vital to The Seed Industry

As a cornerstone of the nation’s agricultural policy, the Farm Bill also ensures the vitality and sustainability of the seed industry, which is, well, seminal to agriculture.

High quality commercial seed drives innovation, ensures food security, and contributes significantly to the economic well-being of farmers and society at large. Simply put, no seed, no food.

The Farm Bill allocates funds for research and development in seed breeding, enabling scientists and researchers to discover innovative technologies and develop crops with enhanced traits, like resistance to diseases and pests, improved yield potential, and increased nutritional value.

These advancements provide farmers with more robust and reliable seed varieties and contribute to the resilience and sustainability of the agricultural sector.

The bill also emphasizes the importance of preserving genetic diversity in seed stocks, by supporting initiatives that promote the conservation of genetic resources.

The legislation significantly influences the economic well-being of farmers, and, by extension, the seed industry, through provisions such as crop insurance, commodity price supports, conservation programs and sustainable farming practices. It provides a safety net for farmers, mitigating financial risks associated with unpredictable weather patterns and market fluctuations.

A healthy, stable agriculture sector is crucial for the seed industry, ensuring consistent demand for innovative seed technologies and encouraging investment in research and development.

Ongoing negotiations. The Farm Bill is reauthorized about every five years.

The last version, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, continued the trend of addressing the manifold challenges facing modern agriculture. It maintained support for commodity programs, emphasized risk management, and expanded investments in conservation, research, and rural development.

Farm Bill negotiations are ever more fraught in today’s political environment.

Further, more than half of Congress is new since the last bill was authorized and most lawmakers in either chamber know little about agriculture. And, with a price tag expected to reach (or exceed) $1.5 trillion – most of that in nutrition programs – the stakes grow ever higher.

The current bill was extended through Sept. 30, but this being an election year, getting a bill done by then will be difficult.

Continued importance. Janae Brady, vice president of Government Affairs for ASTA, calls the Farm Bill a risk management and food security tool for U.S. agriculture and consumers.

“Productive agriculture starts with seed,” Brady says, “and the investments provided by the Farm Bill allow U.S. seed companies and producers to continue to improve crops, creating better outcomes for farmers, consumers, our land, and environment.”

The Farm Bill is a linchpin of American agriculture and ensures the growth and sustainability of the seed industry, by prioritizing research and development, bolstering food security, and supporting farmers economically.

As we navigate a future of climate change and a fast-growing global population, a robust and forward-thinking Farm Bill is vital to securing an innovative and sustainable ag sector, and the seed industry that underlies it.

So, please email, call, message, or snail mail your congressional representative and senator and let them know that we have waited long enough for a new Farm Bill; it’s time to act.

Written by Dave Armstrong, 2023-2024 chair of ASTA, the American Seed Trade Association, Alexandria, VA (703-837-8140/betterseed.org). Armstrong is president/CEO of Sakata America Holding Company, Inc., Morgan Hill, CA (sakata.com).