What is The Farm Bill to most consumers?

September 20, 2013

A SupermarketGuru quick poll asks consumers what they really know about The Farm Bill.

The farm bill seems to be one of the most misunderstood but most important bills in government as it deals with a vital and daily part of our lives – our food. The Lempert Report set out to see how much consumers understand about this omnibus bill. 

Not surprisingly, only ten percent of consumers felt they were very familiar with what the Farm Bill covers. Forty-eight percent say they are somewhat familiar and the balance, hardly or not at all familiar. 

Seventy-two percent of the consumer panel thinks the Farm Bill is a broad, important law critical to our nation’s food supply – while 19 percent are totally unsure.

Do your eyes glaze over when you see a headline about it? Sixty-two percent say no. Thirty-eight percent say yes.

The top five issues consumers think are in the Farm Bill: commodities and crop subsidies (88 percent), farm credit/ farm load programs (77 percent), agricultural trade and food aid (71 percent), food stamps (68 percent), and crop insurance (65 percent). And consumers say the majority of Farm Bill funds are allocated to commodities/crop subsidies (47%) followed by nutrition or Food Stamps (28%). Seventeen percent are totally unsure. 

When asked how much the Farm  Bill typically costs, the plurality said $100 billion… about $180 billon below the mark, as the 2008 Farm Bill was $288 billion. 

On the other hand, most consumers hit the mark on how often the Farm Bill is renewed – every five years was the most popular response. 

While it seems many consumers are unsure about what the farm bill actually covers, a majority, sixty percent, feel the bill greatly affects them. 

Farm Bill controversies? Consumers believe the Farm Bill is controversial for a number of reasons. The top three include a large chunk of the farm bill budget is usually distributed to food assistance programs/food stamps (62%), farm subsidies redistribute money from taxpayers to farmers (54%) and the bill awards annual direct payments to farmers, regardless of their income that year (48%).

Food assistance programs are an aspect of the Farm Bill that may go away, as the House passed their version of the bill in July without food stamps. Meanwhile, according to the New York Times, a report released by Environmental Working Group found that more than 18,000 people who live in the 54 largest American cities received about $24 million in farm subsidies in 2012. These controversial “direct payments” were on the chopping block in both the House and Senate versions of the bill, but they have not yet been eliminated.

In reality, the Farm Bill covers a broad array of programs ranging from crop support to conservation and from food assistance to forestry. One important aspect of the bill is that it provides a safety net for farmers of commodity crops (like corn and soybeans) to help them manage risks like weather and fluctuating prices. Another section of the bill focuses on conservation incentives to help preserve water, land and soil health. Other important sections of the bill include loan programs for new farmers, help with technological development in rural areas, the creation of renewable fuels, and crop insurance.