Resigned and reauthorized every five years, the largest piece of food-related legislation is up next year, the Farm Bill. This bill determines policy and funding levels for agriculture, food assistance programs, natural resources, and other aspects of food and agriculture under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Its impact on the farming industry, its related programs and industries, and the communities they support is tremendous.
The original Farm Bill was enacted during the 1930s as part of the New Deal and had three main goals:
- Keep food prices fair for farmers and consumers.
- Ensure an adequate food supply.
- Protect and sustain the country’s vital natural resources.
While each new Farm Bill is unique, and 18 bills have followed the initial one, the issues addressed in the last 2018 Farm Bill encompassed agricultural commodities, conservation, trade, nutrition, credit, rural development, research, extension and related matters, forestry, energy, horticulture, crop insurance and miscellaneous. To the left is a chart of the $428 million dollars that went towards farm and program support in the last bill.
Discussions on what is due to be the 2023 Farm Bill have already begun at field hearings and producer meetings across the country, where stakeholders have been vocalizing their recommendations and priorities for the next Farm Bill:
- The American Soybean Association shared their soy industries 2023 Farm Bill priorities
- The National Association of Wheat Growers released their 2023 Farm Bill priorities
- The American Farmland Trust’s formal recommendation
- Native Farm Bill Coalition’s Successes from the 2018 Farm Bill and Opportunities for the 2023 bill
- Recommendations from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
The current baseline for Farm Bill programs for the next five years is $648 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s May 2022 estimates. A new estimate in spring 2023 will set the budget for the new Farm Bill.
Here is a quick rundown of what the process of passing the Farm Bill looks like:
Legislatively, it all begins with hearings in Washington, DC and across the country – these are listening sessions where members of Congress take input from the public and organizations about what they want to see in a new bill.
- AGRICULTURAL COMMITTEES
House and Senate Agriculture Committees each draft, debate, amend and change, and eventually pass a bill; the two committees work on separate bills that can have substantial differences.
- FULL CONGRESS / “THE FLOOR”
Each committee bill goes next to “the floor” – the full House of Representatives or Senate. Each bill is debated, amended, and voted on again by its respective body (House or Senate).
- CONFERENCE COMMITTEE
After both the full House and Senate have passed a Farm Bill – which can take a while, and may require a bill being sent back to committee for more work before passage, the two bills (House and Senate) go to a smaller group of Senators and Representatives called a “Conference Committee,” which combines the two separate bills into one compromise package. Conferees are typically chosen mostly from House and Senate Agriculture Committee members.
- FULL CONGRESS
The combined version of the Conference Committee’s Farm Bill then goes back to the House and Senate floors to be debated – and potentially passed.
- LAST STEP: THE WHITE HOUSE
Once the House and Senate approve a final Farm Bill, the bill goes to the President, who can veto it and send it back to Congress or sign it into law.
Once the Farm Bill is signed into law, it’s time for the Appropriations phase: Setting money aside in the yearly federal budget to fund the programs in the Farm Bill, which the federal government operates on a fiscal year from October 1st to September 30th.
Happening simultaneously with the annual appropriations process is Rulemaking. After Congress passes a Farm Bill, the USDA is responsible for writing the actual rules for how these programs will be implemented on the ground.
The recent pass of the Inflation Reduction Act will play a major role in the Farm Bill
U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown says the Inflation Reduction Act should help jumpstart the 2023 Farm Bill process.
“When we passed the Inflation Reduction Act, we funded some farm programs ahead of time, something we’ve never done,” he says. “So, this Farm Bill should be more productive and more helpful both to consumers and farmers because we planned for it better than we have in the past.”
According to an analysis from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the Inflation Reduction Act will provide about a 47% increase over previous Farm Bill levels.
And with the Biden Administration making Climate Change a federal priority, it is likely that the new Farm Bill will reflect such efforts.
No exception to previous years, the final draft of the bill will impact every American in a way that so few others do and will require immense collaboration and compromise on both sides of the aisle — and the final product will impact the food and beverage ecosystem for generations to come.
In June, I was having a catch-up-on-life dinner with my dad, when I brought up the topic of farm workers. While this wasn’t our first time around having this type of conversation, I wanted his input on what he thought was the best way to show support to farm workers. As a professor at Chico State, he has been teaching Chicano studies for several decades now and has dedicated much of his life to studying and interviewing folks who were in the Bracero program and attending many protests that were fighting for farm worker rights.
This picture above was a protest that took place at the California State Capitol, in 2002; my father standing in solidarity with Farm Workers.
That was when he brought up a march that was going to be happening in a few weeks, being led by the United Farm Workers- The March for the Governor’s Signature.
This march would begin on August 3rd in Delano, Ca, and end at the State Capitol on August 26th. This was a repeat of the historic march that was led by Cesar Chavez in 1966. This march was to convince Governor Gavin Newsom to sign AB 2183, the Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Choice Act; a bill which would give farm workers the right to vote for a union, free from intimidation and threats, allowing them to vote in secret whenever and wherever they feel safe.
About 30 farmworkers were marching the entire 335-mile journey through the state’s agricultural Central Valley. Along the way, hundreds of other workers and supporters joined them for parts of the trek.
Despite the heat and physical toll this took on the marchers, they were shown communal support everywhere they went. Supporters passed out waters, food, provided housing, and other supplies needed to keep these marchers going strong.
During the last week of the march, more than 30 students from UC Davis Medical School met up with the marchers in Walnut Grove, Elk Grove, and Sacramento to treat blisters, bandage wounds, and help sooth aching soles.
La lucha es mi lucha- your struggle is my struggle.
The morning of the last day of the march, my father and I were making our way to South Side Park, where folks were gathering for the final stretch to the State Capitol, when there was an announcement from Governor Gavin Newsom stating that he could not support the current bill being proposed, with a spokesperson saying this in an email:
“Governor Newsom is eager to sign legislation that expands opportunity for agricultural workers to come together and be represented, and he supports changes to state law to make it easier for these workers to organize. Our goal is to establish a system for fair elections-requiring employers to abide by rules that guarantee union access and provide key enforceable protections to ensure a fair election. If employers fail to abide by those rules, they would be subject to organizing under a card-check process.
However, we cannot support an untested mail-in election process that lacks critical provisions to protect the integrity of the election and is predicated on an assumption that government cannot effectively enforce laws. We welcome an agreement with UFW on the ground-breaking legislation the administration has proposed.”
This came as no surprise since he had already vetoed a similar bill last year, but I found it humorously ironic, being that this fell on the same day the Gov. declared August 26th California Farm Workers Appreciation Day.
Despite this announcement, once we arrived, there was no hint of defeat. Thousands were there and we were surrounded with music, dancing, prayers, and laughter all throughout the park.
After a few speeches and words of encouragement, we all began to get in formation to begin the march to the Capitol.
On the way there, there was continuous chants and songs, only getting stronger as we got closer to the Capitol.
We arrived to the Capitol around 11am, where it was estimated that there were over 7,000 people all there in support of Farm Workers and the signage of this bill. Chants, songs, dancing, and waving of signs and flags continued as we waited for the speeches to begin.
Speeches included Farm Workers, Teresa Romero (current UFW President), Dolores Huerta (Co-Founder of UFW), and other Farm Worker advocates.
The rally wrapped up around 1:30pm and everyone, including myself and my father, left in high spirits.
It was a powerful, historic event, and it proves that there is so much power in the commUNITY.
The new iteration of the bill, AB2183, was amended the week after the completion of the march, to lay out a more complex process for farmworker union elections beyond just allowing them to vote by mail. Advocates said it would help farmworkers participate in union elections without interference from their employer.
24-hour around-the-clock vigils began on August 29th in Sacramento, Fresno, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
The vigils across the state will all be moving to the State Capitol, starting September 6th, and each location is asking for support from people near or in their community to show up and stand in solidarity with them until Governor Newsom signs this bill.
There is no doubt that capitalism has continuously sought pools of workers for the lowest paying, most backbreaking, and dirtiest jobs. It is these workers who were destined to be the most exploited of all. The great leap in improving wages and working conditions for a major section of the nation’s farm labor force has been largely attributable to its strikes, boycotts, and organizing campaigns. The fight for Farm Workers continues!!
¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!
(The people united will never be defeated)
– Anna Lopez, Education & Outreach Coordinator
Below are resources including documentaries, books, and articles, and organizations to further your education and support about Farm Workers.
Today begins a historical, 24-day long march where Farm Workers and Farm Worker advocates will be marching 335 miles, starting from Delano CA and ending at the Sacramento State Capitol.
This march is to convince Governor Gavin Newsom to sign AB 2183, the Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Choice Act. This bill will give Farm Workers the right to vote for a union, free from intimidation and threats, allowing them to vote in secret whenever and wherever they feel safe.
Today, they must nearly always vote on grower property, amidst cynical voter suppression through abuse and intimidation by foremen, supervisors, and labor contractors.
Twenty-five full-time marchers will join 500 workers and supporters at 8 a.m. on Wednesday August 3 to kick off the trek at the farm workers’ historic “Forty Acres” complex in Delano, where the union began 60 years ago in September 1962.
Volunteer Town Committees have formed in the two dozen towns along the march route to receive, feed, and house the marchers each day. The march route traces the path of the historic Cesar Chavez-led 1966 peregrinacion (pilgrimage) that first brought the farm workers’ grievances before the Nation’s conscience.
The march will end on August 26th, the day that Governor Newsom proclaimed as Farm Worker Appreciation Day in California.
Farm workers are asking people to listen to them, to join in conversation, and to help their voices be heard by those in power.