This report constitutes a guide to a series of two-page reports that examine the various programs and policies that comprise periodic omnibus legislation on farm and food policy, commonly known as “the 2014 farm bill.” The Agriculture Act of 2014 (P.L. 113-79), or 2014 farm bill, was signed into law in February 2014. Many of the programs authorized by the 2014 farm bill expired in 2018, but most were subsequently reauthorized for five years and in many cases revised or otherwise amended by the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-334), the 2018 farm bill, which was signed into law on December 20, 2018.
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This report constitutes a guide to a series of two-page reports that examine the various programs and policies that comprise periodic omnibus legislation on farm and food policy, commonly known as "the 2014 farm bill." The 2014 farm bill (P.L. 113-79), the Agriculture Act of 2014, was signed into law in February 2014. Many of the programs the 2014 farm bill authorized expired in 2018. The Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-334), the 2018 farm bill, which was signed into law on December 20, 2018, reauthorized many of these programs for five years, often amending them in the process.
The 2014 farm bill authorized a broad array of programs and policies that defined the federal government's role in the agricultural sector. It also established the parameters for key domestic and foreign nutrition assistance programs. The various short reports that are identified and briefly summarized in this report are organized under descriptive headings rather than by farm bill titles to facilitate accessibility for those who may be less familiar with the structure of the 2014 farm bill.
The concept behind these reports is to provide relevant information on key programs and policy initiatives authorized by the 2014 farm bill in a concise format that will serve as a quick-reference resource for Members of Congress and congressional staff. To this end, the reports describe the leading programs and policies within individual titles of the 2014 farm bill while also identifying some of the higher-profile issues that attend them.
The reports listed herein also provide references to additional CRS reports for those who want to explore a specific 2014 farm bill topic area in greater depth or who seek additional analysis on an individual program or policy. For an overview of the entire 2014 farm bill, see CRS Report R43076, The 2014 Farm Bill (P.L. 113-79): Summary and Side-by-Side, and CRS Report R44784, Previewing a 2018 Farm Bill.
This report summarizes the 2014 farm bill primers listed below and provides hyperlinks to the full reports. These reports address in greater detail many of the programs and policies authorized in the 2014 farm bill and some of the issues around them.
This report provides an overview of the multiyear, omnibus legislation known as the farm bill. In particular, it describes the breadth of agriculture and nutrition policy that the farm bill authorizes while also providing a brief history of the evolution of the farm bill to the present day. The report further reviews estimated costs of the 2014 farm bill by title, comparing projected costs at the time of the bill's enactment with actual outlays and with more recent projected outlays.
Although the 2014 farm bill expired in 2018, from a budgetary perspective, many of its programs would continue beyond the end of the farm bill, providing funding for reauthorization, reallocation to other programs, or offsets for deficit reduction. This report discusses the two types of funding provided in the farm bill—mandatory spending and discretionary authorizations. It describes how mandatory and discretionary funding differ and highlights the implications of each for farm bill budgeting and program continuity.
The 2014 farm bill authorized $489 billion of mandatory spending over FY2014-FY2018. From a budgetary perspective, many of these programs with mandatory spending have a "baseline" beyond the end of the 2014 farm bill and are assumed to continue beyond their authorization. Having a baseline essentially gives these programs built-in future funding if policymakers decide the programs should continue. If not, the baseline can be reallocated to other programs or used as an offset for deficit reduction. This report identifies the subset of programs that received mandatory funding in the 2014 farm bill but did not have a baseline beyond the end of the 2014 farm bill and so lacked assured future funding when it expired in September 2018.
The federal "farm safety net" provides risk protection and financial support to U.S. farmers. The three components of the farm safety net are (1) farm commodity programs, (2) crop insurance, and (3) disaster assistance programs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers the farm safety net programs. The 2014 farm bill (Agricultural Act of 2014; P.L. 113-79) revised commodity programs, enhanced crop insurance, and retroactively authorized the four new, permanent disaster programs beginning in FY2012.
Commodity programs have historically been an essential part of U.S. farm policy by virtue of their long history (dating back to the 1930s). However, the specific program design and the list of eligible commodities have varied over time with changing market and policy conditions. Provisions of Title I, the "Commodity Title," of the 2014 farm bill authorized commodity price and income support programs for crop years 2014 through 2018. This report describes the primary support mechanisms that were available for eligible commodities and compares these support levels with prices received by farmers.
The 2014 farm bill created two new types of crop support programs—Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC)—to provide income support at levels above the price protection offered by the Marketing Assistance Loan (MAL) program's loan rates. Producers were given a one-time choice between PLC and ARC depending on their preference for protection against a decline in either (a) crop prices or (b) crop revenue, respectively. The selection was for the five-year duration of the 2014 farm bill—the 2014 through 2018 crop years. Furthermore, producers could elect ARC at either the county or individual farm level.
The Marketing Assistance Loan (MAL) program has been a significant feature of U.S. farm policy since the 1930s. The MAL program—operated by USDA—provides both a floor price and interim financing for certain commodities—referred to as loan commodities. The 2014 farm bill extended the MAL program for crop years 2014 through 2018. Under MAL, a participating producer may put a harvested loan crop under a nine-month nonrecourse loan valued at a statutory commodity loan rate. A producer has the option of forfeiting the crop pledged as collateral as full payment for an outstanding loan.
Since its inception in 1938, federal crop insurance has grown from an ancillary program with low participation to a central pillar of federal support for agriculture. From 2008 to 2017, the direct federal costs of the federal crop insurance program totaled about $74 billion in current dollars. In contrast to the program's limited scope and low participation rate in its early years, by 2017 federal crop insurance was providing approximately $106 billion of annual insurance protection (liability) for over 100 crops on about 312 million acres.
Since 1970, Congress has used varying policies to address the issue of who is eligible for farm payments and how much an individual recipient should be permitted to receive in a single year. During the 2014 farm bill, congressional debate focused on (1) ensuring that payments go to persons or entities currently engaged in farming, (2) attributing payments directly to individual recipients, (3) capping the amount of payments that a qualifying recipient may receive in any one year, and (4) excluding from payment eligibility those farmers or farming entities with incomes above a certain level as measured by their adjusted gross income. This report summarizes the eligibility requirements and payment limits that applied to federal farm support programs.
The 2014 farm bill made significant changes to the structure of U.S. dairy support programs by repealing the Dairy Product Price Support Program, the Milk Income Loss Contract, and the Dairy Export Incentives Program. Instead, the bill established two new programs—the Margin Protection Program (MPP) and the Dairy Product Donation Program. Many dairy stakeholders concluded that MPP had not functioned as envisioned and looked to the 2018 farm bill as a vehicle for strengthening the safety net for milk producers.
Congress reauthorized the sugar program in the 2014 farm bill with no changes from the version it authorized in the 2008 farm bill (P.L. 110-246), making it an anomaly among major commodity programs. The U.S. sugar program also stands out in that it combines a price support feature with a supply management structure that limits both sugar production for domestic human use and imports. The objectives behind this market intervention are to support domestic sugar prices without incurring budgetary costs to the federal government while also assuring that adequate supplies of beet and cane sugar are available to sugar users. A significant development since Congress reauthorized the sugar program is bilateral agreements with Mexico that place limits around imports of Mexican sugar.
A number of federal programs help agricultural producers recover from the effects of natural disasters, including federal crop insurance, the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, livestock and fruit tree disaster programs, and emergency disaster loans. All programs are permanently authorized, and most receive "such sums as necessary" through mandatory spending authority. As such, these programs did not require reauthorization in the 2018 farm bill.
The conservation title of a farm bill generally contains a number of reauthorizations, amendments, and new programs that encourage farmers and ranchers to voluntarily implement resource-conserving practices on private land. Starting in 1985, farm bills have greatly broadened the range of topics considered to be "conservation." Administered by USDA, conservation programs can be grouped into the following categories based on similarities: working land programs, land retirement programs, easement programs, partnership programs, conservation compliance, and other overarching provisions.
Agricultural exports are important to both farmers and the U.S. economy. With the productivity of U.S. agriculture growing faster than domestic demand, farmers and agriculturally oriented firms rely heavily on export markets to sustain prices and revenue. Accordingly, the 2014 farm bill authorized a number of programs to promote farm exports, among which were programs that facilitated market development and others that guaranteed credit.
The nutrition title of the farm bill typically reauthorizes a number of nutrition or domestic food assistance programs. These include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program) and certain other programs administered by USDA's Food and Nutrition Service. These programs were reauthorized in the 2014 farm bill through September 30, 2018. Farm bills since 1973 have included reauthorization of the Food Stamp Program (renamed SNAP in 2008).
Beginning farmers and ranchers—generally defined as having operated a farm or ranch for no more than 10 years—comprise an important part of the U.S. agricultural sector. Not only do they contribute to rural and nonrural economies, but they are considered to be critical given ongoing concerns about the aging U.S. farm population, the "disappearing middle" (i.e., mid-sized farms both in terms of farm numbers and value of sales), and general trends toward increasing consolidation and fewer, larger farms. The 2014 farm bill reauthorized and expanded programs administered by USDA supporting new farmers and ranchers. These programs targeted new farmers within specific farm demographic groups based on age, race, and gender, as well as socially disadvantaged (underserved) farmers and farmers who are military veterans.
A number of programs and provisions authorized in the 2014 farm bill provided support to military veterans engaged in farming and ranching. These initiatives were generally authorized within the context of programs that broadly address the needs of beginning farmers and ranchers. This report identifies those provisions and programs in the 2014 farm bill that specifically address military veterans involved in farming and ranching. Moreover, the report summarizes a number of bills introduced into the 115th Congress that were specifically oriented to veteran farmers and ranchers.
Omnibus farm bills are the major modern legislative vehicle for addressing many rural development issues. While other legislation has significant implications for rural areas and rural residents (e.g., transportation initiatives, environmental regulation, finance and taxation, Medicare, Social Security), Congress has used periodic farm bills to address emerging rural issues and to reauthorize a wide range of rural programs administered by the USDA's rural development mission agencies: the Rural Utilities Service, the Rural Business-Cooperative Service, and the Rural Housing Service. While the extent of overlap among federal agencies and programs targeting rural areas has been of concern to some rural policy observers, USDA Rural Development has primary federal responsibility for rural development and has the largest number of programs providing assistance to rural areas.
Forest management generally, as well as forest research and forestry assistance, is within the jurisdiction of the agriculture committees in Congress. Although most forestry programs are permanently authorized, forestry is often addressed in the periodic farm bills to reauthorize many agriculture programs. The 2014 farm bill included a separate forestry title, and this report summarizes some of the forestry provisions addressed in the 2014 farm bill as well as related issues that Congress may debate.
The 2014 farm bill contained 12 titles that addressed agricultural and food programs, as well as Title IX, the energy title. The 2014 farm bill was the third farm bill to contain an energy title. The energy title primarily focused on support for renewable energy—particularly agriculture-related energy, energy efficiency, and bioproducts (e.g., cleaning supplies). This In Focus summarizes the 2014 farm bill energy title as a basis for informing discussions on the 2018 farm bill.
The horticulture title of the 2014 farm bill covers a diverse set of agricultural products, including specialty crops, certified organic agriculture, and local and regional foods. These sectors have long argued that their industries should occupy a larger role in farm bill policy discussions and that benefits supporting major commodity producers should be extended to these producers in order to create a broader, more equitable farm bill. Producers in these sectors were not eligible for USDA commodity revenue support programs, but they were eligible for other types of USDA programs and support throughout several 2014 farm bill titles. These included, but were not limited to, programs in the nutrition, conservation, research, crop insurance, disaster assistance, rural development, and trade titles. The report also identifies other federal agencies that play important roles in these sectors.