Brass Tacks from Rural Iowa: The House’s draft Farm Bill is a gift for corporate ag

Barb Kalbach.

After months of delay, the Farm Bill is finally moving in Congress. The House Agriculture Committee passed its draft of the 2024 Farm Bill on May 23, the first step in a process that will include a Senate draft followed by floor debates later this year.

Buckle up. We’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there. The current Farm Bill expires September 30.

The Farm Bill is passed every five years, locking in around $1.5 trillion over the next decade in federal spending on farm programs, nutrition benefits, rural economic development, voluntary conservation efforts, rural infrastructure and more. The recent committee-approved House draft is an obvious attempt to sprinkle some crumbs throughout the bill to buy the support of certain constituencies. We’re not taking the bait.

Members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) are working with independent family farmers and allies nationwide to set the record straight. The House draft is a gift to factory farms and corporate ag, and is supported by Iowa’s Zach Nunn (R, IA-3) and Randy Feenstra (R, IA-4). It excludes key provisions we support, including:

The House draft does not include mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for beef. We support restoring mandatory COOL for beef because it helps independent family farmers and reins in the power of corporate meatpackers.

The House draft fails to provide the Packers and Stockyards Administration (P&SA) with additional funding and authority to address corporate concentration. We support a more robust and active P&SA to break-up monopolies and protect open and competitive markets for independent livestock producers.

The House draft includes the EATS Act, a bill that would stop state and local governments that want to protect their citizens and environment from factory farms. We support local control and much tougher public health and environmental standards for factory farms.

The House draft cuts SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) by nearly $30 billion. We support a Farm Bill that increases nutrition benefits for people who can’t afford groceries. No one should go hungry in our country, and SNAP is the best way to address the nutrition needs for our children, families, seniors, low-income workers and military veterans.

I could be generous and say the House draft is a day late and a dollar short, but that would downplay the reality of spending billions of taxpayer dollars to prop up factory farms and corporate agribusiness profits. The House draft is a status quo Farm Bill that perpetuates fencerow-to-fencerow crop production and industrial livestock factories.

U.S. Representative Jim McGovern (D, MA-2) couldn’t have said it better: “This bill is a disaster for America’s farmers. It’s a disaster for America’s families. It’s a disaster for America’s environment. And it’s a disaster for America’s workers.”

“You know who this bill is a big win for?” McGovern asked. “It’s a win for CEOs that have never worked in a field for a day in their lives. It’s a win for people with luxury beachfront properties and fancy high-rise apartments who make their money screwing over our family farmers.”

Thousands of us agree with McGovern, and we’ll be there during the next few months pushing our elected representatives to side with the people and deliver a new kind of Farm Bill. We need federal farm and food policy that checks corporate power in agricultural markets, cuts government subsidies for factory farms, supports investments in nutrition benefits for the poor and working class, and retains local control. That’s our bottom line.

Barb Kalbach lives in Adair County, Iowa. She is a 4th-generation family farmer, a registered Nurse, and board president of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. Barb can be reached at barbnealkalbach@gmail.com.