Examining Farm Bill Base Acre Proposals

On May 30, 2024, we compared the farm safety net features of the House Ag Committee-passed version of the 2024 Farm Bill (Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024) with the Senate majority proposal (Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act of 2024). In today’s article, we focus on one of those provisions: the addition of base acres. While the Senate majority proposal would provide a “limited opportunity” to update base for “underserved producers”– and it remains to be seen exactly what that would entail – the House Ag Committee-passed bill would add up to an additional 30 million acres of base for farms where planted acres exceed base acres on the farm. While base is a wonky, often overlooked provision, is has the potential to be one of the more consequential in the farm bill, particularly as proposed by the House. 

Previous Southern Ag Today articles (for example, see here) have explored the issue of base. While a seemingly straightforward issue, it’s actually quite complicated. First, base acres were established decades ago and there have been very few opportunities to update/add base. Second, because base acres are decoupled from planting history, what a producer was planting in the mid-1980s when base was established is not necessarily reflective of what is being planted on the farm today. Third, while the 2014 Farm Bill allowed for a “reallocation” of base acres – which did provide an opportunity for the base acres to be more aligned with what was planted on the farm, on average, from 2009-2013 – that “reallocation” did not allow new base acres to be added to the farm. In fact, the last real opportunity to add base acres occurred in the 2002 Farm Bill as soybeans were being added as a covered commodity. Consequently, land with no base (or with plantings that exceed base) have had virtually no opportunity to add base in the last several decades. Fourth, there are severe data limitations preventing thorough analysis, which means it’s difficult for policymakers to know the scope of the problem. Fifth, because of those data limitations, it’s difficult to advise policymakers on the implications of various proposals to change base acres. For example, one popular option adopted by the National Corn Growers Association would be for Congress to simply mandate a base acre update to recent plantings, but ascertaining who would add/lose base is almost impossible to determine, which puts Congress in a precarious position. Despite all of these challenges, based on our collective decades of experience in working on farm policy, just about every farmer we know has land without base (or that is “under-based”) and would be very interested in being able to add new base acres. 

It is this last point that makes the House Ag Committee proposal particularly intriguing. It is entirely optional and, apart from the 2002 Farm Bill making soybeans a covered commodity, it would represent the single largest opportunity to add base acres since their initial creation in the mid-1980s. Under the House Ag Committee proposal, a farm would be eligible for additional base acres equal to the amount by which (1) the average number of acres from 2019 through 2023 that were planted or prevented from being planted to covered commodities (including “eligible non-covered commodities”) exceeds (2) the existing base acres on the farm. In other words, if you have a farm with plantings that exceed base (including farms where you have no base at all), you can add the missing base. There are a few key limitations/provisions of which to be mindful:

  • To avoid penalizing producers who may be in a crop rotation that contains certain non-covered commodities, the number of eligible acres may include the number of acres planted or prevented from being planted to non-covered commodities (i.e., the “eligible non-covered commodities” referenced above) other than trees, bushes, vines, and pasture. The acres of non-covered commodities that can count toward the eligible acres on the farm would be limited and may not exceed 15% of the total acres on the farm.
  • New base acres added under this provision would be assigned to covered commodities using a formula like that utilized for the base reallocation opportunity in the 2014 Farm Bill. The assignment would reflect the ratio of covered commodities planted on the farm from 2019 through 2023.
  • Following sign-up, if the total number of eligible acres across the country exceeds 30 million acres, the Secretary would be required to apply a pro-rata reduction to all farms to reduce the number of eligible acres to equal 30 million. For example, if USDA receives applications to add 60 million acres of base, everyone will see a 50% factor applied to their application (i.e., 30 million divided by 60 million). Regardless, assuming there are sufficient applications, this would result in a minimum of 30 million new base acres being added to the program.

Bottom line: this is a significant change from previous law that we expect to be extraordinarily popular among agricultural producers.

Fischer, Bart L., and Joe Outlaw. “Examining Farm Bill Base Acre Proposals.Southern Ag Today 4(23.4). June 6, 2024. Permalink