New Farm Bill Sets Ground Rules

New farm bill provides blueprint for governmental priorities for the next five years.
Farm Bill Sets Ground Rules
With the President's signature on the 2014 farm bill, everyone in the agricultural value chain finally has some certainty about what the next five years will bring in terms of government policy.

"We know the money involved, the policy changes, what was taken away and what was put in its place," says Greg Thies, head of U.S. government affairs for Syngenta. That surety comes after two years of bipartisan wrangling over levels of farm spending and how to provide a farm safety net with fewer dollars.

"The government is here to help you, but it expects you to buy crop insurance and make smart business decisions," is how Thies summarizes the 1,000-plus page bill.

The new farm bill is expected to save taxpayers $23 billion in mandatory federal spending over a 10-year period. Those savings come largely from consolidating conservation programs ($3.9 billion), ending direct payments to growers ($14.3 billion) and instituting reforms to federal nutrition programs ($8 billion). New spending for crop insurance ($5.7 billion), research ($1.1 billion), energy programs ($879 million), horticulture ($694 million) and another billion-plus in miscellaneous spending offset part of those savings.

Additional funding for bioenergy programs may provide new opportunities for Enogen® corn, developed for ethanol production by Syngenta. A reduction of 8 million acres of land in the Conservation Reserve Program could mean more cropland in production, potentially expanding market share for Enogen in some regions.

The farm bill also includes several provisions addressing regulatory dysfunction that biotech companies, such as Syngenta, have faced. One provision clarifies that duplicative Environmental Protection Agency paperwork is not needed when importing seeds that have been genetically modified to produce a pesticide. Another provision requires federal agencies to work together under guidelines recommended by the National Academy of Sciences when reviewing new product applications. The provision also explains how those applications intersect with the Endangered Species Act.

Many in agriculture had hoped to reform the process of requiring National Pollutant Discharge Water System permits to apply certain pesticides in certain areas under the Clean Water Act. Although the provision was included in the House version of the farm bill, it was not in the Senate version.

"From agriculture's perspective, we got some wins on regulatory issues, but we didn't get all we wanted," Thies says.