Seed World

ASTA Focuses on the Need for Innovation in the Farm Bill

There’s a lot on the mind concerning the farm bill, but one thing remains certain: innovation is a must.

September 30, 2023. That date might not mean a lot to some people, but if you’ve been working in the ag space, you might realize that date has a bit of weight behind it — it’s the date the 2018 Farm Bill expires.

Legislators, lobbyists and associations are working hard to educate a new Congress and Senate about the bill, which is historically one of the largest bipartisan bills to cross the floor.

Last year when we talked with Janae Brady, one of the biggest concerns she had leading up to the 2023 Farm Bill revolved around budgets, more specifically, focusing on investing more research dollars to the agriculture sector. But, a lot has changed in the span of one year.

2023 Updates and ASTA Priorities

Since our last update on the farm bill, the political landscape changed, as a midterm election shifted the control of the House to Republicans.

“The biggest changes since the last time we spoke is the change in control of the House and the House ag committee leadership,” Brady, vice president of government affairs with the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) says. “Having Chairman Thompson take over means a shift in priorities, because they’re now in control of the hearing schedule. In addition, Senator Stabenow has announced her retirement — even though she’ll be here for the next couple of years, that adds a layer of urgency of her being able to fulfill a legacy item in the next couple of months.”

Although there have been shifts in the representatives on the floor, Brady says this hasn’t hugely impacted ASTA’s priorities for the farm bill. Instead, the team has been spending the last year trying to drill down and go into more detail on different aspects that they’re looking for.

“Ag research remains on the top priorities, and we’re continuing to advocate on the needs for ag research, which are significant,” Brady says.

That said, the biggest challenge in terms of funding is that really, it’s a priority for everyone, across all titles of the farm bill. At the end of the day, Brady knows it’ll be a difficult decision for the Committee to figure out how to take care of that challenge, knowing that the needs are so large.

Beyond ag research, ASTA’s been focusing on looking at things within the conservation space, as conservation has continued to grow as a priority. ASTA has been looking at how conservation policies might impact, or provide opportunities for the seed sector. This includes existing and new programs that promote increased cover crop acreage as well as any potential changes to existing programs, like the Conservation Reserve Program, to ensure that the seed sector has the tools needed to prepare.

“What sort of legislation do we need that will provide a little bit of predictability and transparency so that our companies can make business plans into the future, and make sure we have the ability to produce the right seed and the right amounts of seed to work for these programs and ultimately work for the farmers planting the seeds?” Brady asks, adding that the ASTA team is working on keeping those types of questions at the forefront when talking with legislators.

And, along with many other important pieces from the farm bill, Brady says ASTA continues to focus on one thing: innovation.

“There’s not an innovation title in the farm bill, but innovation continues to be so important to the seed industry,” she says. “We looked at innovation throughout — whether it’s the conservation space, the research space… What are we doing to ensure that we’re prioritizing plant breeding innovation and continued advancements in technology?”

The Bill’s Biggest Challenge

One of the biggest challenges to the bill continues to be the timeline. According to the Brady, the 2018 Farm Bill was a little bit further along in April and May than we’re currently seeing right now.

“We’re on a very, very condensed timeline right now,” Brady says. “That doesn’t mean it’s not possible — we’re certainly optimistic that it’s going to get done. But it’s just a matter of this sort of uncertainty that comes with the potential need for extension.”

According to Brady, the farm bill hasn’t been passed by the expiration date since the 1990s — one of the closest years the farm bill was passed to the extension date was in 2018, when the bill was passed in December of the year it expired.

If the bill doesn’t get passed by the expiration date, typically the solution is to draft and approve an extension of the current farm bill. That’s what happened in 2012 — a year-long extension was passed to help continue the negotiations for the bill, which eventually became the 2014 Farm Bill.

If a farm bill isn’t approved or extended and ends up lapsing, Brady says that we’d revert to permanent law, which has roots back in the 1930s.

“While that sounds negative, it also adds motivation to getting something done,” she says. “It really makes sure the stakes are high and provides the need for the farm bill to be in place.”

Tomorrow, we’ll dive into one of the major calls ASTA has focused on in their farm bill priorities: the need for more funding for agriculture research.