By Chris Adams

What’s next for America’s farmers?

In a session with National Press Foundation fellows, Patrick Westhoff of the University of Missouri detailed how the 2018 farm bill will impact farmers, affecting crop insurance and commodity programs. He also talked how the ongoing trade war has – or could – affect farmers’ bottom line.

Westhoff is director of the school’s Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, which analyzes the farm economy and how it is affected by U.S. and international government policies.

Overall, farm income is down from highs about five years ago. But it’s still not at the levels of earlier depressed eras, such as the 1980s. Even so, Westhoff said, “A lot of farmers are very concerned about where things are and where they’re going.”

Westhoff gave a tutorial on the different sections of the farm bill that come with dollars attached, primarily crop insurance and commodity programs. Congress passed the bill with overwhelming bipartisan support at the end of 2018; it covers crop years 2019-2023.

He also explained two different commodity programs: “price loss coverage” and “agriculture risk coverage,” both of which protect farmers from wide swings in commodity prices.

The other big thing on farmers’ horizon is international trade. And just like unpredictable weather, trade changes from Washington have the potential to wipe away the value of farmers’ crops – or blow over and have no impact at all.

As for tariffs: Westhoff touched on how they are impacting the farm sector and what the Trump administration has done to mitigate them. So far, there have been two rounds of “market facilitation program” payments to producers to compensate for lost trade due to foreign retaliatory tariffs. One of the programs was based on acreage, the other on production; combined, they have pumped an estimated $23 billion to farmers.