What influenced the 2008 farm bill debate?
More important in the long run than the final policies and programs of the 2008 Farm Bill was the formation of new forward-looking alliances that have permanently changed the political landscape for farm and food policy.
New players created new dynamics, and there was an unprecedented split in the traditional farm lobby as new agriculture groups looked to change the political landscape. The collaboration between nutrition, public health, conservation and local food groups matured as the individual interests gained a better understanding of common leverage points and aligned agendas.
- Specialty crop producers, historically ignored in past farm bills, gained a foothold in advocating for fruit, vegetable and nut growers.
- The burgeoning local foods movement sought support to improve access to local foods and support local producers.
- Public health interests promoted access to healthy food to help address America’s diet and obesity crisis.
- International development organizations and religious groups worked to discourage the trade-distorting effect of U.S. agriculture policy on developing countries.
During the course of the development of the 2008 Farm Bill, many stakeholders, once fragmented, formulated common goals and often worked together to move farm and food policy forward in a new direction.
These previously unaligned groups championed several policies and marker bills—or legislative “placeholders.” Used to introduce specific issues at the committee and subcommittee level, over a dozen marker bills addressing issues as diverse as expanding access to healthy food, providing incentives for biofuels, and supporting beginning farmers were introduced in the House and Senate in the spring of 2007.
- Regional agricultural alliances, particularly in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, recognized the window of opportunity to advocate for all farmers and ranchers regardless of size, location or product by bringing together local food, conservation, environment and public health interests.
- The nation’s largest commodity organization, the National Corn Growers Association, joined forces with American Farmland Trust to reform subsidies with a new revenue based safety net.
- Conservation and specialty crop interests, as well as previously divergent producer groups from across the agricultural spectrum, formed an alliance to advocate proposals toward common goals.
Renewed Public Interest and Engagement
While the farm bill has typically been characterized as directly affecting less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, this time a groundswell of mainstream media and public awareness grew from the recognition of the bill’s wide effect on the general public. Major news outlets, op-eds, best-selling books and movies, and significant citizen advocacy efforts contributed to greater public awareness of, and involvement in, the farm bill legislative process.
The level of the administration’s involvement in the farm bill would have been unheard of in the past, especially in an election year. But this time the White House issued detailed proposals and veto threats. Congress initially ignored White House involvement until it became clear the veto threats were real. Budget constraints and new pay-go statutes restricting new funding were the primary cause for continued delays and multiple extensions, with traditional agriculture politics and politicians not wanting to yield to the new priorities, new players and public outcries for reform.