Prologue and Predictions: 2021’s Ag Policy Shifts and a Look at the Coming Year

By Ed Elfmann

With changes at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and with congressional leadership, 2021 was an exciting year for policy development. Transition from the Trump to the Biden administration brought significant change in policy directions with an increased emphasis on climate and environmental policy in the agricultural space.

In a Biden White House, new political appointees were put in place across the government. In agriculture, the most well-known appointee was Tom Vilsack. He returned for a second stint as the secretary of Agriculture, having served President Obama in the same role from 2008 to 2016. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) also returned to her prior role as chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Vilsack is well-versed in the field as a former Agriculture secretary and before that as governor of Iowa. During the Obama administration, ABA was able to work with Vilsack and his staff on different loan programs at USDA. This has continued during the Biden administration.

A new administration also brought with it many new faces in agricultural leadership positions. Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) became the ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee. Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) became the first African American chair of the House Agriculture Committee, while Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) became the ranking member. At USDA, Jewel Bronaugh was appointed deputy secretary and Zach Ducheneaux was named the Farm Service Agency administrator.

Agricultural policy in 2021 mostly revolved around climate and the environment. There has been a great deal of discussion on the role that agriculture has to play in the future of climate, including many hearings in both the House and the Senate. Legislation was passed to help create markets for carbon credits and companies are now working with farmers in this space. Lastly, a large infrastructure bill was passed that included funding for rural broadband, which was supported by ABA and many others. This was in addition to funding for highways, waterways and other infrastructure that helps rural America move commodities.

Looking ahead

Going into 2022, there is an expectation of more hearings in preparation for the next Farm Bill. The current Farm Bill expires in 2023 and, generally, there are hearings the year before on everything affected by Farm Bill legislation. For agricultural banking, first and foremost, we closely watch for changes to the credit title. But as many of us have learned over time, the Farm Bill greatly affects our customers, and ultimately our banks, in many ways.

Throughout the past year, ABA has been part of a Beginning Farmer and Rancher Working Group through the USDA Farm Service Agency. The findings of this group should be out early in 2022. From an ABA perspective, we hope to make the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Loan Programs easier to use and better overall for our customers. Recommendations like this will go a long way toward developing potential changes in the next Farm Bill.

Carbon credit market development and legislation related to climate will continue to be the norm in the upcoming year. Many believe that the next Farm Bill will be an opportunity to make progress within agriculture on the climate front. We will be watching how this develops throughout the year and will weigh in when our voice needs to be heard. Additionally, ABA will continue to promote the Enhancing Credit Opportunities in Rural America Act (ECORA) to level the playing field for agricultural banks. ABA believes there needs to be hearings and legislative action taken to move ECORA forward, and ECORA will continue to be a priority issue for ABA in 2022.

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About Author

Ed Elfmann

Ed Elfmann is senior vice president for Agricultural & Rural Banking Policy at ABA.