Timely Action Could Spur Hope for Farm Bill Progress

Despite the multiple delays that have forced what was supposed to be the 2023 Farm Bill into another year of debates and compromises, National Sorghum Producers remains optimistic this critical legislation will move forward as we remain consistently engaged with our “sorghum champions” on Capitol Hill.

Article by Greg Ruehle

The second session of the 118th Congress is underway, beginning much in the same way as the first session ended last year, with an abbreviated legislative calendar and the impending November General Election, a divided government with narrow margins, entrenched policy and political positions, and little appetite for compromise or collegiality. While the framers of our U.S. Constitution never promised democracy would be pretty, I am not sure they had this model in mind when they drafted the nation’s founding documents.

The farm bill being debated today represents the sixth farm bill over my association career. My first exposure, the 1996 Farm Bill, took approximately nine months from start to finish. The 2002 and 2008 Farms Bills took approximately a year to pass, and conversely, the 2012 Farm Bill was adopted in 2014, nearly two years after committee work began. While the current farm bill expired September 30, 2023, it was extended by Congress for one year, and a timeline for completion of new legislation remains up in the air.

With those facts setting the stage, I remain optimistic we can move critical legislation during this shortened legislative calendar. Like the farmer who “dusts in” a crop, or the rancher who prays for safety when a late winter storm blows in during calving season, we must remain optimistic a farm bill will advance even in the face of steep odds.

At the time of this writing, a few facts remain relevant—the 2024 Congressional calendar has a small window of time for legislative debate, the demand is great for dollars to improve the farm safety net and tempers among elected officials are wearing thin.

Obstacles, at the time of publishing, to move a farm bill that is cleared by Congress:

  • FY2024 Appropriations bills have been approved, a full six months past their deadline.
  • FY2025 Appropriations process has begun with a deadline for passage of September 30.
  • House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn (G.T.) Thompson is drafting a “Chairman’s Mark” to begin the legislative process for a farm bill revision.
  • Senate Agriculture Committee leadership has suggested they too are drafting a bill for introduction this Spring.

Priorities for National Sorghum Producers during this farm bill debate revolve around strengthening the farm safety net. Past Chairman Kody Carson testified last year before the Senate Ag Committee that you do not have much of a safety net if your net is only a few inches off the ground. His point is perfectly illustrated by 2024 crop budgets. Grain prices have decreased significantly while input costs remain the same or only marginally declined. The result is a 25.5% decrease in net farm income projected for 2024 compared to 2023 figures, leaving little margin for error.

Strengthening the farm safety net includes a variety of provisions, including updated reference prices to reflect current cost of production estimates; a strong crop insurance program to address unforeseen market turbulence or production cost increases; improvements in the delivery of conservation programs that match the increases in funding provided for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP); and well-funded market and trade development programs that support ongoing international trade development efforts in China and India, among others.

NSP remains engaged on behalf of our members in a number of ways, even as the legislative process struggles to gain momentum. Sorghum has been well-represented in Washington, D.C., so far this year with nearly a half dozen visits to Capitol Hill by producer leaders and staff to maintain contact with our “sorghum champions.”

Additionally, NSP CEO Tim Lust testified in March before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology regarding the important role of the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) in helping generate data related to sorghum for use in the ongoing biofuels tax credit debate, among other things.

NSP remains engaged with several federal agencies on a variety of topics, including:

  • USDA NASS regarding sorghum marketing data to support reference prices.
  • USDA NRCS regarding the unique role sorghum plays as The Resource Conserving Crop®.
  • EPA regarding more balance between pesticide use and the potential to impact endangered or threatened species.

Anticipated draft regulations around biofuels production tax credits under a multi-agency process involving the Departments of Treasury, Energy, Agriculture and the EPA.

NSP is also involved in the election process by interviewing candidates and offering support for those who share the views of our collective membership, whether inside or outside the Sorghum Belt. The 2024 Sorghum PAC Series has been successful in raising the funds needed to provide support to sorghum advocates on Capitol Hill.

My late grandfather, a farmer and stockman of German descent, always claimed, “It always rains just before it is too late.” Living in northwest Iowa definitely helped his odds of being correct, especially as contrasted by his grandson’s choice to live in the less predictable High Plains. For me, Grandpa’s message has become more about remaining optimistic as we plant a crop or nurture those newborn animals, and as we steward the resources Team Sorghum has at hand. If we have not had a chance to meet, I look forward to doing so very soon.

Greg Ruehle joined National Sorghum Producers as Executive Director in November, bringing a wealth of experience in agriculture and association management to his new role. Ruehle’s background is deeply rooted in agriculture, having been raised on a diversified grain and livestock farm in northwest Iowa. With over 30 years of experience in the agricultural and association management fields, including roles such as President & CEO for the Independent Professional Seed Association, the Nebraska Cattlemen and ServiTech, Inc., Ruehle brings a unique blend of industry expertise and leadership to NSP. Ruehle can be reached at greg@sorghumgrowers.com or 620-253-3137.


This story originally appeared in the Spring 2024 Issue of Sorghum Grower magazine.