Wait a second. Aren’t we just three growing seasons into a five-year farm bill? And now we’re talking about the next one?

Yes, it does seem a bit premature. But it truly is farm bill season when groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation start gearing up for the next farm bill debate.

AFBF has assembled a farm bill working group of state staff that had its first virtual meeting recently with many more virtual and in-person meetings to come. I am representing Illinois Farm Bureau on the working group, so it’s imperative I can accurately convey which programs are working for you and which ones aren’t.

Over the next several months both the U.S. House and Senate agriculture committees will also begin a series of hearings looking back at the 2018 farm bill — reviewing its performance, its strengths and weaknesses and what changes are needed. Illinois Farm Bureau must also be a part of those conversations, sharing our members’ experiences with farm bill programs and their ideas for tweaks and wholesale changes.

A lot has changed since you debated whether to sign up for Agricultural Risk Coverage or Price Loss Coverage. In 2018, we were in the middle of a trade war with China. The Chinese significantly reduced their purchases of U.S. soybeans, and practically overnight Illinois farmers collectively lost more than a billion dollars in export sales. Secretary Sonny Perdue was asked to get creative and rolled out the Market Facilitation Program (MFP), which was designed to make up for lost Chinese business.

Illinois farmers received two MFP payments totaling $2.6 billion. Spring of 2019 brought heavy rains at the wrong time, and IFB members up and down the state quickly became reacquainted with prevented planting provisions. WHIP+ payments were made in 2019 and are still being made. Then, a nationwide pandemic and congressional approved COVID disaster assistance once again forced USDA to get creative.

Farmers across the nation received two rounds of Coronavirus Food Assistance Program payments which are still being rolled out. Once again, Illinois farmers were among the biggest beneficiaries.

And we can’t forget about the extraordinary role crop insurance played in 2018-2020. Over those three years, Illinois farmers paid roughly $1.2 billion out of pocket for federal crop insurance coverage. Between USDA’s share of the premium and indemnities paid, Illinois farmers have recently received an 81-cent return for every dollar in out-of-pocket premiums paid. The risk premium subsidy alone over the past four years in Illinois totals about $1.6 billion underscoring the program’s tremendous significance.

So, while we’re still as many as two years out from what will likely be the 2023 farm bill, we need to think about what changes we’d like to see in the commodity and conservation programs. How’s crop insurance working? And is there a need – as some regions of the country believe – for a permanent disaster program inside the farm bill, or does that program already exist? Is there enough technical assistance? Are program rules clear?

More than 200 IFB members attended 15 in-person district meetings during the past several weeks. Everywhere I’ve been Farm Bureau members have stepped up, asked great questions and engaged in hours of valuable discussion and input. I’ve heard some excellent ideas about how to improve conservation programs like CRP, CSP, and EQIP as well as suggestions on how to better support younger farmers. For me, at least, things are beginning to crystalize.

Two more district meetings remain. We’ll take a break and offer some virtual opportunities to gather additional input later this fall and over the winter. If you have ideas that require changes to Illinois Farm Bureau policy, you still have time to prepare resolutions and submit them for consideration in November.

If any ideas for the next farm bill pop into your head now or while you’re in the combine, don’t wait for a meeting. Please feel free to send them my way at anielsen@ilfb.org. This ongoing conversation and our collective effort to develop member-driven, grassroots federal farm policy will continue over the next several months and into next year. Soon, we have a chance to help write another farm bill, and it’s on each of us to make sure we get it right.

Adam Nielsen serves as director of national legislation and policy development at Illinois Farm Bureau.