A Deep Dive into the House Farm Bill - American Farmland Trust

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A Deep Dive into the House Farm Bill  

The following piece was produced by AFT’s Policy Director Tim Fink, Senior Policy Advisor and National Agricultural Land Network Director Cris Coffin, Conservation and Climate Policy Manager Samantha Levy, and Farm Viability Policy Manager Emily Liss.  

Last week, the Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024 (Farm Bill) passed the House Agriculture Committee in a 33-21 vote, with support from all Republicans as well as four Democrats (Representatives Caraveo, Davis, Sorenson, and Bishop). The partisan divisions were predominantly over changes to the Thrifty Food Plan which is used to calculate SNAP benefits, restrictions placed on the Secretary of Agriculture’s use of the Commodity Credit Corporation, and the handling of climate change in the integration of Inflation Reduction Act funding into the legislation.   

Earlier last week, AFT produced a statement commenting on the legislation. While this statement was largely positive regarding changes made within its Conservation Title (see below), we think there are opportunities to improve upon the bill. There is a strong need for continued bipartisan negotiations and inclusion of critical priorities in other AFT mission areas, particularly those addressing farm viability.  

Throughout this process, AFT has sought to cut through the noise and focus on building bridges in an era when there are often greater rewards for burning them. While the past several years of Farm Bill work have shown how challenging it is to do real bipartisan and non-biased policy work, they have also affirmed how this work is made all the more essential in the face of a polarized landscape.  

This post examines where the House Farm Bill stands relative to AFT’s Farm Bill priorities. These priorities were developed through a process that included 16 workshops in 7 regions across the nation that engaged over 300 farmers, ranchers, non-profit leaders, and other stakeholders. AFT priorities included in the bill are noted with a (+), and items that are partially or not at all included are noted with a (–). 


Signed into law in August 2022, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) included nearly $20 billion in conservation funding. The majority of this funding is restricted to projects and practices that reduce, sequester, or avoid greenhouse gas emissions (often referred to as the “climate sideboards”). It is important to note that over 70% of this four-year funding was backloaded to FY25 and FY26, so the vast majority of this funding has yet to be spent.  

Throughout the Farm Bill negotiations, the IRA conservation dollars have been a subject of debate. The key questions surrounding this funding are:  

  1. Should the roughly $13 billion in remaining conservation funding be transferred into the Farm Bill?  
  2. If so, should all this funding remain in the Farm Bill Conservation Title, or should part of it be used to pay for other priorities?  
  3. Finally, if brought into the Farm Bill, should the climate sideboards remain?  

The House Farm Bill transfers the IRA funding fully into the Conservation Title, a step that AFT deeply appreciates. The House and Senate Agriculture Committee chairs and ranking members are supportive of this change, as are most conservation groups. This is because transferring the remaining IRA conservation funding into the Farm Bill builds long-term funding baseline for conservation. In essence, it enables the funding to benefit conservation in all subsequent Farm Bills, as opposed to just the next two years. Not bringing the IRA dollars into the Farm Bill would be missing the opportunity to leverage $13 billion in conservation funding into billions more conservation dollars – billions that could be used to support climate-smart practices. The House Farm Bill would increase the conservation baseline by nearly 25 percent, the first such increase in nearly two decades. 

While the transfer of this funding into the Farm Bill has not been controversial, the real debate has been whether this funding should retain its original climate restrictions. The House Farm Bill does not retain the sideboards, and an amendment by Rep. Vasquez (D-NM) to restore them was voted down in Committee markup 29 to 25. Contrary to some reporting and statements, the removal of the climate sideboards does not prohibit the use of this funding for climate-smart practices and projects. Rather, the funding becomes general program funding, a significant portion of which contributed to climate-smart practices and projects even prior to the IRA.  

AFT believes that climate-smart practices are essential to mitigating climate change and ensuring the profitability and resilience of farm operations in the face of increasing extreme weather. And many climate-smart practices are the very same practices needed to meet other societal goals, such as improving water quality and creating habitat. But we also believe that the single greatest factor enabling these practices is the availability of broader funding. Without a Farm Bill this year, there will be billions fewer dollars available to build the long-term conservation baseline. This is why we are grateful that the funding is used to increase conservation baseline, but nonetheless encourage further bipartisan conversation between House and Senate on how best to focus on climate within the Farm Bill Conservation Title, so that this issue does not prevent passage of a bipartisan Farm Bill this year.  


Farmland loss threatens the future of American agriculture. According to AFT research, from 2001–2016, the U.S. paved over, fragmented, or converted 11 million acres of agricultural land to uses that jeopardize agriculture and is projected to lose at least 18.4 million acres more by 2040. Once this finite resource is developed, it never returns to farming. 

The Farm Bill represents an important opportunity to leverage federal funding to enable more landowners to voluntarily protect their farmland and ranchland in perpetuity. AFT has coordinated a Farm Bill Agricultural Land Protection Partnership of agricultural land trusts and state Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) programs seeking additional funding for – and programmatic improvements to – USDA’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) which provides federal matching funds for the purchase of Agricultural Land Easements (ACEP-ALE). We have also recommended changes to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to make it a more efficient tool for farm, ranch, and forest land protection.  

Many partners, including AFT, responded to the House Farm Bill in a letter sent to House Agriculture Committee leadership this week. Here is a summary of how our Partnership’s farmland protection priorities fared in the House Farm Bill: 

Increase Funding for ACEP. + 

Funding for ACEP-ALE projects averaged just $114 million annually between 2019 and 2021 – a level that falls far short of meeting landowner demand. The IRA provided a critically important $1.4 billion in funding to the program but has complicated agency implementation with a separate, evolving selection process for IRA projects. We are pleased that the House Farm Bill brings the IRA funding into the Farm Bill baseline, ratcheting up ACEP funding from $450 million annually today, to $600 million in FY25 before ramping up to $700 million in FY29.    

Enable More Landowners to Participate in ACEP-ALE. + 

Because ACEP-ALE only provides up to 50% of the value of an easement, the program is problematic for landowners who live in regions with no source of state or local matching funds and are not in a financial position to gift a large percent of the easement value. A high Partnership priority was increasing the federal cost-share for ACEP-ALE, and we are grateful to the House for increasing it to 65% for general ALE projects, and to 90% for projects involving socially disadvantaged landowners. Importantly, the House also included an option we recommended – a lower federal cost-share of 25% for easements held only by a state or local partner with no federal executory interest. For state PACE programs that have had trouble reconciling their easement terms with those of USDA’s, or landowners who mistrust government, this is a valuable option.   

Strengthen Partnerships and Address Program Inefficiencies in ACEP and RCPP. + 

The House Farm Bill includes many Partnership priorities intended to streamline program administration and recognize the expertise of state and local partners. Several provisions are intended to strengthen the certification process, including: clarifying congressional intent around entity certification; lowering the threshold of projects required for certification and providing an additional pathway for certification; allowing certified entities to use and modify their easement deed terms so long as these terms are consistent with program purposes; and extending certification to RCPP easement projects. We were also pleased to see the House adopt our recommendation to eliminate the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) requirement on landowners. This requirement precludes high quality land from being protected if owned by someone over the AGI threshold; additionally, the eligibility determination requires the involvement of both FSA and the IRS, which can lead to significant project delays.  

The Committee also took several of our recommendations related to easement modifications. The proposed language allows for modifications that align with program purposes and address changing circumstances that adversely impact agricultural viability, including changes in water availability. The language also creates a new category of de minimis adjustments, offering a streamlined pathway for things such as correcting typographical errors and changes to building envelope boundaries. Importantly, the language also clarifies that easement modifications are not considered a major federal action under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). These changes are intended to address landowner concerns over often extensive delays or denials of minor modification requests. 

One priority not included in the House Farm Bill was to exclude the income received from the sale of an easement in AGI calculations for other Conservation Title programs. The Partnership believes that the sale of an easement should not preclude a landowner from seeking to address natural resource concerns through other NRCS conservation programs.  

Modify the Buy-Protect-Sell language established in the 2018 Farm Bill. – 

The 2018 Farm Bill included specific authorization for projects that allow a land trust to purchase farmland in fee, protect the land with an easement funded in part through ACEP-ALE, and sell the protected land to a qualified farmer. This type of project, known as “Buy-Protect-Sell” or “BPS,” enables land trusts to better help young and historically marginalized producers purchase protected land. The Partnership has recommended several modifications to the 2018 Farm Bill language that have made it difficult to use this mechanism. The House did not include our recommendations in the Farm Bill; we expect some of these recommendations to be included in the Senate bill.  


Many producers across the country have adopted conservation practices that increase their farm viability and soil health, improve water quality, and help build resilience to extreme weather. However, as the most recent Census of Agriculture shows, these practices remain underutilized. This is because producers face numerous barriers when experimenting with new practices, especially during the transition period. Reported barriers include cost, risk, insecure land tenure, and lack of access to the right equipment or information.  

Farm Bill conservation programs provide essential cost share and technical assistance to help producers implement these practices, but these programs need more funding and staff to address service gaps and meet demand. More must be done in the Farm Bill to equitably scale up long-term practice adoption by farmers. In addition to bringing the remaining IRA funding into the Farm Bill, fixing the Technical Service Provider (TSP) Program, and finding ways to support risk-reducing conservation practices within crop insurance, AFT believes there is a strong need for a federal match for state and Tribal soil health programs and more support for farmer-to-farmer conservation education. Below is a summary of AFT’s priorities and how they have fared in the House Farm Bill:  

Increase Conservation Program Funding + 

As noted above, the House bill proposes bringing roughly $13 billion in remaining IRA funds into the Farm Bill to not only increase the funding available for these programs, but also to increase the “floor” of funding available for these programs in future Farm Bills.  

Establish a Federal Matching Grant for State and Tribal Soil Health Programs +  

While NRCS conservation programs provide critical, science-based financial and technical assistance, there is often not enough funding to meet demand, they do not reach all producers, and they do not invest in equipment purchases critical to implementing many practices. In response, many states have been filling these gaps and driving innovation by establishing new soil health programs or building on existing conservation programs. But these budgets are notoriously constrained. Inspired by the NO EMITS Act (H.R. 4163) and the Agricultural Resilience Act (H.R. 1840), the House bill proposes a $100 million per year investment to provide a match for state and Tribal soil health programs to build on existing programs and incentivize the creation of new ones. While the House proposes this within the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), AFT believes it is ultimately a better fit for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) or, ideally, as a standalone program. 

Support Greater Farmer-to-Farmer Conservation Education – 

Farmer-to-farmer education provides a way to overcome many adoption barriers, especially the perceived risks that often impede farmers from trying new practices. There is no better or more trusted voice to support farmers in adopting new practices than that of other farmers who can share their firsthand experience with both the benefits and challenges associated with new practices. This kind of education is a crucial part of an all-hands-on-deck approach to technical assistance that results in successful long-term adoption. However, regular, coordinated farmer-to-farmer education exists in very few communities, and can be hard for many farmers to find and access. Current funding and opportunities are not enough to realize the full potential of this transformational strategy. Several marker bills emphasize the need for farmer-to-farmer assistance in the next Farm Bill, including the bipartisan Farmer-to-Farmer Education Act (S.2614/H.R.8488) and PLACE Act (H.R. 5500). Language building more support for farmer-to-farmer conservation networks was absent from the House Farm Bill. 

Incentivize Risk-Reducing Practices Through Crop Insurance – 

The Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP) offers critical risk management support to many producers, covering the vast majority of commodity acres across the nation. However, climate change is expected to make farming even more risky: For instance, NASA predicts corn yields will drop 24% in ten years due to climate change. This will not only increase production costs, but also crop insurance program costs, with USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) projecting FCIP expenses to rise 37% if farmers do not take adaptation steps such as building soil health. AFT has recommended that Congress use the FCIP to proactively incentivize farmers to adopt these conservation practices in the next Farm Bill, for instance with premium discounts (as proposed in the COVER act [H.R. 3478]), as well as through additional research, pilot projects, and other established processes. The House did not include any language directing USDA to advance these efforts. 


Solar energy is expected to play a large role in decarbonizing our nation’s electric power sector. According to a 2021 U.S. Department of Energy study, decarbonizing the grid will require nearly 10.4 million acres of new solar arrays by 2050. AFT’s Farms Under Threat: 2040 modeling reveals that, without policy intervention, 83% of new solar development will take place on agricultural land, with almost half of that on our most productive land. This is expected to have significant impacts on farmers, farmland, and rural economies. These impacts will be both positive, through payments for landowners and municipalities, and negative, through conversion of productive farmland, displacement of farmer-renters, and impacts to the broader local farm economy as solar projects trend larger. Concerns over these negative impacts are slowing and halting proposed solar projects, threatening the timely achievement of climate goals.  

While solar development involves private transactions governed at the state and local level, the federal government has a critical role to play in providing sound information, investing in research, and ensuring that transmission and energy infrastructure development strengthens farm viability and keeps land in farming. As solar development is expected to increase exponentially over the next five years, it is urgent for Congress to act now to ensure that USDA is poised to advance a Smart Solar buildout that maximizes benefits and minimizes these potential negative impacts. Below is a summary of AFT’s recommendations for this Farm Bill and how they fared in the House version:  

Direct USDA to Develop Best Practices to Protect the Soil Health of Farmland Put into Solar + 

NRCS, with its deep bench of soil health experts, is in a strong position to engage with solar developers and installers to develop recommended best practices for protecting the soil during the high disturbance times of construction, operation, decommissioning, and restoration so this land can be farmed in the future. Having regionally-relevant, technical, science-based best practices will help developers, as well as states and local governments without such expertise, achieve this goal. In the Energy Title, the House bill requests that USDA study and propose best practices for this purpose. 

Require that Best Practices are Followed as a Condition of Receiving Federal Funding + 

As a condition of receiving USDA funding, this bill would require that best practices are followed for solar projects proposed on productive farmland that generate energy for the grid, or that are greater than 50 acres. Since farmland – especially productive farmland – will play such a primary role in hosting solar projects, this is critical to ensure that conversion is not permanent. AFT believes this is a key way USDA can model a Smart Solar buildout within its energy programs. 

Advance the Study of Agrivoltaics +/– 

Agrivoltaic solar projects pair solar energy generation with agricultural production for the full operating life of the array. If done right, this could present a promising way to keep land in farming while also advancing the renewable buildout. However, there are currently few production systems economically compatible with solar. Inspired by the Agricultural Resilience Act (H.R. 1840) and the SUNRAY Act (H.R. 7391), the House bill would direct USDA to study the viability and scalability of agrivoltaic operations. The bill, however, does not define the term “agrivoltaics” and does not provide funding to carry out this study. 

Study the Impacts of the Solar Buildout on Farmland and Farm Communities + 

As inspired by H.R. 8277, the House proposes to invest in research to answer key questions slowing the advancement of Smart Solar, including determining expected impacts to productive farmland, farmer-renters, land access, and rural economies. Solar is advancing rapidly, and local governments are struggling to weigh the pros and cons of permitting projects. This study would provide critical information to aid their decision-making. 

Clarify that Producers Farming within Solar Arrays can Access USDA Farm Programs – 

AFT has sought to clarify that agrivoltaic producers, or those who farm within solar arrays, are eligible for all USDA farm support programs. At times, administrative decision-making recognizes solar arrays as an industrial use, not an agricultural use. This prevents producers working within solar arrays from receiving critical support available to other farmers. This small but important change was not included in the House Farm Bill.  

Other Smart Solar Notes 

The House Farm Bill has other language regarding solar and farmland that was not championed by AFT, but nonetheless merits mention. Inspired by H.R. 7923, the House Farm Bill would restrict USDA’s ability to fund solar arrays that convert prime, unique, or statewide or locally important farmland out of production, except in the case of smaller arrays or when permission is granted from local governments. USDA funding to advance renewable energy represents a small share of the total taxpayer dollars advancing solar projects across the nation, and specifically supports renewables in rural areas. AFT seeks to minimize the conversion of productive farmland out of agricultural production from solar, and hopes to build awareness and support for reforms to the Farmland Protection Policy Act (FPPA), which is intended to have the federal government track and avoid the conversion of highly productive farm and ranch land as a result of federal funding. But critical details, such as what constitutes conversion, are not yet clear in the current House language. AFT believes there may be better opportunities to achieve this goal and advance Smart Solar development in USDA programs, such as directing USDA to incentivize agrivoltaic projects and projects on marginal farmland. AFT will continue its work with the House and the Senate to ensure Farm Bill solar policy simultaneously meets several goals: increasing farm viability, minimizing conversion of productive farmland, and advancing the renewable energy buildout. 


Between 2017 and 2022, the U.S. lost nearly 7% of all farms. In particular, the pandemic served as a reminder of the vital role that farms – especially small and midsize – play in having a resilient food system. In fact, small farms (less than 180 acres) only cover 8% of agricultural land, but are responsible for 20% of all agricultural sales. 

Yet more must be done to support these small and midsized operations. This includes additional support for one-to-one business technical assistance to help farmers and food entrepreneurs build the business and financial skills necessary to run successful, resilient businesses. Such services are also key to succession planning and in helping producers access land and governmental programs. There also needs to be additional focus at USDA to ensure that the Department’s programs and regulations are designed to work for smaller-scale operations.  

Create an Office of Small Farms –  

AFT supports the creation of an Office of Small Farms within USDA as defined in the Office of Small Farms Establishment Act. This proposed new Office would improve program accessibility for small-scale operations, operate an anonymous hotline, and provide grants and technical assistance to these types of producers. The Office was recently included as a recommendation within USDA’s Equity Commission Report. An Office of Small Farms was not included in the House Farm Bill.  

Authorize the Regional Food Business Centers – 

As part of the efforts to build more resilient local and regional supply chains, USDA created twelve Regional Food Business Centers across the nation with funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The Centers, which represent partnerships among numerous organizations, are designed to coordinate, build capacity, and provide technical assistance. Together, they will fill gaps in USDA programming and represent critical investments that will help ensure the success of small and midsized farmers and food entrepreneurs. Because they were created with temporary five-year funding, authorizing the Regional Food Business Centers is critical in order to ensure that their important work continues. If the Centers are not included in the next Farm Bill, these vital investments could be lost, along with the related expertise needed to support farmers and food entrepreneurs for years to come. The House Farm Bill does not presently include the Centers.  

Address Heirs’ Property + 

Heirs’ property is a form of fractionated property ownership which, when it occurs on farmland, can make it challenging to access USDA or other government programs, and can be easily forced to auction by real estate interests. This form of ownership is particularly prevalent in Black communities in the Southeast and is often the result of informal land transfer caused by not having a will. The House bill reauthorizes the Heirs’ Property Relending Program, and creates a new program based on the Heirs Education and Investment to Resolve Succession of Property Act. This would allow USDA to enter into cooperative agreements with nonprofits to provide legal and accounting services to underserved heirs to resolve undivided ownership issues for farmland.  

Other Farm Viability Notes 

The House bill did not make any major cuts to important viability programs such as the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) or the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP). Within LAMP, the bill creates a simplified application process for certain project categories requesting fewer than $100,000 of funding.  


Land access is reported as the number one challenge facing aspiring farmers. With agricultural land values increasing 107 percent between 2009 and 2023, the dream of farmland ownership has never been further out of reach for new farmers, especially young and historically underserved producers. These skyrocketing costs are fueled by steep competition among investors, established farmers, and solar and real estate developers.  

The need for better policy to address land access could not be more urgent. Nearly one-third of the country’s total agricultural land will change hands over the next twenty years as the current generation of farmers retire. The land access policies put in place now will determine not just the availability and affordability of land for the next generation of farmers and ranchers, but also the nation’s ability to combat climate change, provide economic opportunities in rural communities, and address national and global food security.   

Reauthorize the Commission on Farm Transitions + 

AFT is pleased to see reauthorization of the Commission on Farm Transitions in the House bill. The provision was created by the 2018 Farm Bill, but never implemented by USDA. The 10-member Commission would be tasked with studying and proposing solutions to the barriers facing both retiring and next generation producers in transitioning land and other assets. This includes examining the effectiveness of existing programs and policies, the availability of resources such as credit and business training, and the impacts of trends such as consolidation and foreign ownership. Updates to the Commission language were proposed in the bipartisan Farm Transitions Act 

Authorize and Fund FSA’s Increasing Land, Capital, and Market Access Program – 

AFT helped champion the bipartisan Increasing Land Access, Security, and Opportunities Act, which would authorize and expand upon the Increasing Land, Capital, and Market Access Program. This program was launched by FSA in 2022 with temporary funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The program is the first of its kind to directly address land access and related challenges facing young, beginning, and BIPOC producers, with services including succession planning, support for down payments, business and financial planning, and heirs’ property title resolution. The House Farm Bill does not include this program.  


Under normal circumstances, the House Farm Bill would soon be taken up for consideration by the full House of Representatives. However, the best chance for House passage – as with almost all pieces of legislation now – is strong support from both parties. AFT is hopeful that continued conversations between the two sides can bring additional bipartisan support for the bill. In recent interviews, Chairman Thompson has indicated that September would be the earliest he would expect consideration by the full House. 

Of course, the action by the House Agriculture Committee is the first word, not the last word, in the larger process of developing a Farm Bill. Recently, in an attempt to “restart” negotiations in the chamber, Chairwoman Stabenow released a highly detailed summary of a proposed Senate Farm Bill, titled the “Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act.” AFT highlighted the many strengths of this proposal in a recent statement, including some measures not included in the House Farm Bill such as the authorization of the Regional Food Business Centers, the creation of an Office of Small Farms, improvements to Buy-Protect-Sell, and greater support for farmer-to-farmer conservation education. However, at the time of writing, it is unclear whether the debut of the legislation has advanced negotiations.  

In short, prospects for a 2024 Farm Bill look dim in both chambers. And, ultimately, the cost of inaction this year is steep, especially with billions of future conservation dollars lost by delaying passage by another year. If a bill were to pass today, it would reflect much of the great work done by our staff, our allies, and our legislative champions. 

As we move forward, AFT will continue its fight for the best possible Farm Bill. We will continue to press for real solutions to the most critical challenges facing agriculture and to serve as a resource and thought partner for both parties and both chambers. And we will continue to center ourselves on our mission and the very people AFT was created to serve: our nation’s farmers and ranchers.

About the Author
Tim Fink

Policy Director


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