What’s in the Farm Bill for Livestock Producers?

Livestock producers tend to be an independent lot.  We can identify – we both have livestock backgrounds.  It’s not uncommon for us to hear that there’s really nothing in the farm bill – or in farm policy in general – for livestock producers.  In fact, livestock producers often wear it as a badge of honor, arguing they get nothing from the federal government and would prefer the federal government just stay out of their way in return.  The problem: that’s not really the case…at least not anymore.

While it’s true that the farm safety net historically has been focused on row crops – with dairy being a very notable exception – there has been a significant shift over the past 25 years. Below, we highlight four of the major changes.

  • Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).  The 1996 Farm Bill initiated the EQIP program to provide cost share assistance to crop and livestock producers.  Fifty percent of the funding available for technical assistance, cost-share payments, incentive payments, and education under EQIP was targeted at practices relating to livestock production.
  • Livestock Disaster Programs.  The 2008 Farm Bill was the first to authorize the livestock disaster programs, including the Livestock Forage Program (LFP), the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), and the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-raised Fish Program (ELAP).  Unfortunately, the 2008 Farm Bill authorization was short-lived, and all three programs expired in 2011.  The 2014 Farm Bill resurrected all three programs, providing permanent baseline funding going forward.  As of February 2023, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that those 3 programs will provide $5.6 billion in assistance to livestock producers over the next 10 years.
  • Disaster Preparedness.  The 2018 Farm Bill maintained the livestock disaster programs and provided $300 million over 10 years for animal disease prevention and management programs in addition to authorizing supplemental funding through the appropriations process.  The bill established a vaccine bank to respond to the accidental or intentional introduction of animal diseases like foot‐and‐mouth disease (FMD) and established the National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program to leverage local, state, and national resources to prevent and respond to animal disease threats.
  • Federal Crop Insurance.  Historically, USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) was limited to spending $20 million per fiscal year on livestock insurance policies.  The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 eliminated the restriction.  Since then, the liability insured by livestock policies has increased from just over $500 million in 2018 to more than $21 billion in 2022 – a 4,000% increase in just 5 years (Figure 1).  There are also new insurance policies on the horizon, including one that would provide revenue coverage for weaned calves for cow-calf producers.

Bottom line: livestock producers have a vested interest in the farm bill.  With that said, despite the rapid growth in liability insured by livestock policies, it still represents a small share of the value of livestock production in the United States and there are significant opportunities for expansion going forward.  For policymakers, it’s likely worth exploring if the current infrastructure – including things like RMA’s Livestock Price Reinsurance Agreement (LPRA) – are up to the task.

Figure 1.  Liability Insured by Livestock Policy Type and Year

Source:  Authors’ calculations of USDA-RMA Summary of Business data.

Fischer, Bart L., and Joe Outlaw. “What’s in the Farm Bill for Livestock Producers?Southern Ag Today 3(11.4). March 16, 2023. Permalink