Updated April 26, 2018
Farm Bill Primer: What Is the Farm Bill?
The farm bill is an omnibus, multi-year law that governs an
array of agricultural and food programs. It provides an
opportunity for policymakers to comprehensively and
periodically address agricultural and food issues.
The farm bill is typically renewed about every five years.
Seventeen farm bills have been enacted since the 1930s
(2014, 2008, 2002, 1996, 1990, 1985, 1981, 1977, 1973,
1970, 1965, 1956, 1954, 1949, 1948, 1938, and 1933).
programs not only expire but would revert to permanent
law dating back to the 1940s. Many discretionary programs
would not have statutory authority to receive appropriations
in future years. Other programs have permanent authority
and do not need to be reauthorized (e.g., crop insurance) but
might be included in the bill to make changes for policy or
The 2014 Farm Bill (P.L. 113-79), by Title
Title I, Commodity Programs: Provides support for
major commodity crops, including wheat, corn, soybeans,
peanuts, rice, dairy, and sugar, as well as disaster
Title II, Conservation: Encourages environmental
stewardship of farmlands and improved management
through land retirement and/or working lands programs.
Title III, Trade: Provides support for U.S. agricultural
export programs and international food assistance
Title IV, Nutrition: Provides nutrition assistance for
low-income households through programs including the
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Title V, Credit: Offers direct government loans to
farmers and ranchers and guarantees on private lenders’
Title VI, Rural Development: Supports rural business
and community development programs.
Title VII, Research, Extension, and Related
Matters: Offers various agricultural research and
The Agricultural Act of 2014 (P.L. 113-79, H.Rept. 113333), referred to here as the “2014 farm bill,” is the most
recent omnibus farm bill. It was enacted in February 2014
and succeeded the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of
2008 (P.L. 110-246, “2008 farm bill”). The 2014 farm bill
contains 12 titles encompassing commodity price and
income supports, farm credit, trade, agricultural
conservation, research, rural development, energy, and
foreign and domestic food programs, among others.
Title VIII, Forestry: Supports forestry management
programs run by USDA’s Forest Service.
Title IX, Energy: Encourages the development of farm
and community renewable energy systems through
various programs, including grants and loan guarantees.
Title X, Horticulture: Supports the production of
specialty crops—fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and
floriculture and ornamental products—through a range
Provisions in the 2014 farm bill reshape the structure of
farm commodity support, expand crop insurance coverage,
consolidate conservation programs, reauthorize and revise
nutrition assistance, and extend authority to appropriate
funds for many U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
discretionary programs through FY2018.
Title XI, Crop Insurance: Enhances coverage of the
permanently authorized federal crop insurance program.
Title XII, Miscellaneous: Covers other types of
programs and assistance, including livestock and poultry
Farm bills have traditionally focused on farm commodity
program support for a handful of staple commodities—
corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, rice, dairy, and sugar. Yet
farm bills have become increasingly expansive in nature
since 1973, when a nutrition title was included. Other
prominent additions include conservation, horticulture, and
The farm bill provides an opportunity for Congress to
comprehensively and periodically address agricultural
and food issues. The 2014 farm bill expires in 2018.
The omnibus nature of the farm bill can create broad
coalitions of support among sometimes conflicting interests
for policies that individually might not survive the
legislative process. This can lead to competition for funds.
In recent years, more parties have become involved in the
debate, including national farm groups, commodity
associations, state organizations, nutrition and public health
officials, and advocacy groups representing conservation,
recreation, rural development, faith-based interests, local
food systems, and organic production.
Without a new farm bill or an extension, the authority for
some farm programs would expire, and some would cease
to operate altogether unless reauthorized. Also, new
activities under some old programs might not be initiated,
for lack of either program authority or available funding.
For instance, nutrition assistance programs require periodic
reauthorization if they are to continue. The farm commodity
Estimated Cost of the 2014 Farm Bill
The farm bill authorizes programs in two spending
categories: mandatory and discretionary. Programs with
mandatory spending generally operate as entitlements. The
farm bill pays for them using multi-year budget estimates
(baseline) when the law is enacted. Programs with
discretionary spending are authorized for their scope but are
Farm Bill Primer: What Is the Farm Bill?
not funded in the farm bill. They are subject to annual
appropriations. While both types of programs are important,
mandatory programs often dominate the farm bill debate.
At enactment in February 2014, the Congressional Budget
Office (CBO) estimated that the total cost of mandatory
programs in the farm bill would be $489 billion over the
five years FY2014-FY2018 (Table 1).
Four titles accounted for 99% of anticipated farm bill
mandatory outlays: nutrition, crop insurance, conservation,
and farm commodity support. The nutrition title comprised
80% of the total for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance
Program (SNAP), and the remaining 20% was mostly
geared toward agricultural production.
Farm commodity support and crop insurance combined to
account for 13% of mandatory program costs, with another
6% of costs in USDA conservation programs. Programs in
all other farm bill titles accounted for about 1% of all
mandatory expenditures. Although their relative share is
small, titles such as horticulture and research saw their
share increase compared to the 2008 farm bill.
Table 1. 2014 Farm Bill Projected Outlays, by Title
Five-Year Projected Outlays, FY2014-FY2018,
Millions of Dollars
FY2016 have become final (actual), estimates are available
for FY2017, and updated projections for FY2018 have
generally reflected lower-than-expected farm commodity
prices in the near term and lower-than-expected
participation in SNAP.
The result of these new projections, as of April 2018, is that
SNAP outlays are projected to be about $26 billion less for
the five-year period FY2014-18 than was expected in
February 2014 (-7%). Crop insurance outlays are projected
to be $10 billion less (-25%) and conservation outlays about
$5 billion less (-19%) for the five-year period. In contrast,
farm commodity and disaster program payments are
projected to be $13 billion higher than was expected at
enactment (+55%) due to lower commodity market prices
(which raises counter-cyclical payments) and higher
livestock payments due to disasters (Table 1).
Overall, the five-year projection of the four major titles of
the 2014 farm bill is now $455 billion. This is about $28
billion less than what was projected at enactment (-6%).
Figure 1 shows the current projections and actual outlays
for the four major titles of the 2014 farm bill.
Figure 1. Projected Outlays, 2014 Farm Bill, by Title
Actuals FY2014-2016, Est. FY2017, April 2018 CBO Baseline
FY2014-18 Share Proj. FY18 enactment
CRS InFocus 10783, Farm Bill Primer: Budget Issues.
CRS Report R44913, Farm Bill Primer Series: A Guide to
Omnibus Legislation on Agriculture and Food Programs.
Source: CRS, using the CBO cost estimate of the Agricultural Act of
2014 (January 28, 2014), and the CBO Budget and Economic Outlook, “10Year Budget Projections,” April 2018.
Source: CRS, using CBO Budget and Economic Outlook, April 2018.
CRS In Focus IF10780, Farm Bill Primer: Programs Without
Baseline Beyond FY2018.
CRS Report R43076, The 2014 Farm Bill (P.L. 113-79):
Summary and Side-by-Side.
CRS Report RS22131, What Is the Farm Bill?
Note: “na” indicates that sufficient detail is not available to compile data
for all titles in non-farm bill years.
Current Cost Projections
In the years since enactment of the farm bill and as part of
its ongoing procedures, CBO has updated its projections of
government spending based on new information about the
economy and program participation. Outlays for FY2014 to
Renée Johnson, Specialist in Agricultural Policy
Jim Monke, Specialist in Agricultural Policy
Farm Bill Primer: What Is the Farm Bill?
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