2023 Farm Bill Marker Bills and Sign-on Letters
Updated Sep 12, 2023
What is a marker bill?
Marker bills are sponsored by members of Congress and introduced like any other bill, but they are not intended to pass as standalone legislation. Instead, marker bills are meant to elevate policy ideas and let lawmakers build grassroots support for their bills to demonstrate those policy ideas have broad support. The more active support a marker bill has among members of Congress, the more likely it is to be incorporated into an omnibus piece of legislation, like the farm bill, and get signed into law.
The more support we generate for our endorsed marker bills, the more likely it will be that our policy priorities will be enacted in the next farm bill.
Our marker bills generally fall into three buckets that capture Sierra Club’s priorities:
- Climate-Forward Agriculture and Food Systems: Promote organic and regenerative farming and ranching, climate resilience, reduce water and air pollution, improve soil health, lower greenhouse gas emissions, support local and regional food systems and rural clean energy development;
- Public Investment for the Public Good: Help ensure that more land is used for nutritious food, not livestock feed, by redirecting funds away from polluting and extractive conventional agriculture and benefitting local foods and producers; and
- Equity and Food Security: Address equity issues by protecting and expanding SNAP, assisting BIPOC, small, urban, and new farmers and ranchers, and addressing environmental injustices and negative health impacts of harmful agricultural practices.
We’ve organized the following marker bills into these three buckets. You will find the bill’s title, its sponsor(s), a bill summary, and other supporting materials to help prepare you for your meetings with members of Congress or their staff. We have also included information about two efforts with partners that address our priorities. For ease, we have also put asterisks around the names of bills that are among our top asks for Congress.
Climate-Forward Agriculture and Food Systems
**Agriculture Resilience Act of 2023**
Reintroduced 03/28/2023 (Senator Martin Heinrich, [D-NM]; Representative Chellie Pingree [D-ME-1])
Sets a national goal of achieving net-zero agricultural emissions by 2040 through farmer and rancher-led, science-based initiatives prioritizing climate research and climate-smart practices. This legislation will make investments focusing on six policy areas:
1. Increasing research: Increase funding for USDA's Regional Climate Hubs. Create a new Sustainable Agriculture and Research (SARE) Agricultural and Food System Resilience Initiative grant program to fund farmer and rancher-led projects.
2. Improving soil health: Create a new soil health grant program. Offer performance-based crop insurance discounts. Expand the National Agroforestry Center. Provide more USDA conservation program assistance and flexibility.
3. Protecting existing farmland and supporting farm viability: Increase funding for the Local Agricultural Market Program to help keep local farms profitable and create a new subprogram for farm viability and local climate resilience centers to help farmers reach new markets.
4. Supporting pasture-based livestock systems: Create a new program to support alternative livestock methane management strategies. Establish a new grant program to help small meat processors cover the costs associated with meeting federal inspection guidelines.
5. Boosting investments in on-farm energy initiatives: Increase funding for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) to prioritize low-emissions electrification projects, including dual-use renewable energy and cropping or livestock systems (agrovoltaics).
6. Reducing food waste
Local Farms and Food Act of 2023 (NSAC)
Reintroduced 04/19/23 (Senator Sherrod Brown [D-OH]; Representative Chellie Pingree [D-ME-1])
Offers program reforms to remove barriers for applicants, increase infrastructural investments, and sustain impactful nutrition incentives through the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive (GusNIP), and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFNMP).
- LAMP: Supports direct producer-to-consumer marketing, local and regional food markets and enterprises, and value-added agricultural products.
- GusNIP: Prioritizes nutrition security by funding competitive grants for projects to increase the purchase of and prescriptions for fresh fruits and vegetables by income-eligible consumers.
- SFNMP: Provides low-income seniors access to locally grown fruits, vegetables, honey, and herbs.
Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research (SOAR) Act of 2023
Introduced 04/19/23 (Dan Newhouse [R-WA])
Bill number: H.R.2720 (no Senate version as of 09/12/23)
This bill would increase investments into organic agriculture research and market analysis, supporting a rapidly growing organic food and agriculture market. The bill would bolster funding for two USDA organic-specific research programs, the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) and the Researching the Transition to Organic Program (RTOP), currently known as the Organic Transition Research Program (ORG), providing first-time Congressional authorization to the latter. The bill would also bolster funding for the Organic Production and Market Data Initiative (ODI), a joint initiative of three USDA Agencies: Natural Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Economic Research Service (ERS), and Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). It also directs ERS to conduct a full, systematic evaluation of the economic impact of organic agriculture on rural and urban communities, taking into account economic, ecological, and social factors.
Agrivoltaics Research and Demonstration Act of 2023; bipartisan (no House version as of 07/30/23)
Introduced 05/31/23 (Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM)/Senator Mike Braun (R-IN)
Bill number: S.1778 (no House version as of 09/12/23)
This bill would provide funding for the Department of Energy (DoE) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) to jointly advance research on agrivoltaics (the co-location of solar panels on agricultural land used for growing crops or raising livestock) and demonstrations of the value of such systems. Agrivoltaic systems can enhance productivity and profit, reduce water loss, increase resiliency, and generate clean energy.
GusNIP Expansion Act
Introduced 07/25/23 (Representative Dan Kildee [MI-08]/Representative Rick Crawford [AZ-01])
Bill number: H.R.4856 (no Senate version as of 09/12/23)
This bill would expand the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP), which supports state and local programs offering nutrition incentives that subsidize the purchase of fruits and vegetables. The bill would increase the purchasing power of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and bolster the GusNIP Produce Prescription Program. The provisions in the bill would 1) enable more partners to participate by reducing the funding match requirement, 2) scale up programs that make incentives available statewide, and 3) invest in training to help projects work better for participants. It would improve nutrition security while boosting income for local farmers who grow healthy food.
Introduced 05/18/23 (Senator Sherrod Brown [D-OH]; Representative Sean Casten [D-IL-6])
This bill would provide a $5/acre crop insurance discount to farmers who plant cover crops. Incentivizing farmers to plant cover crops, a critical conservation practice that improves the quality of soils, will reduce nutrient runoff, mitigate climate risk, and reduce dependence on synthetic fertilizers and agrichemicals. The bill also creates a soil health pilot program and provides technical assistance to help producers implement cover crops.
TSP Access Act of 2023
Introduced 05/02/23 (Senator Mike Braun [R-IN]; Representative Jim Baird [R-IN-4])
Technical Service Providers (TSPs) are certified to provide one-on-one assistance to producers, helping them access USDA conservation programs. A significant shortage of TSPs limits the participation of many farmers, ranchers, and forest owners in these programs. This bill would address the shortage by allowing organizations outside the federal government to certify TSPs and streamlining the certification process for people already holding specialty certifications.
Public Investment for the Public Good
**Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act of 2023**
Reintroduced 02/28/23 (Senator Mike Lee [R-UT]/Senator Cory Booker [D-NJ]; Representative Nancy Mace [R-SC-1]/Representative Dina Titus [D-NV-1])
Agricultural research and promotion programs (commonly known as checkoff programs) are supported by mandatory payments from producers of an agricultural commodity. In theory, the funding goes towards advertising campaigns and research that helps all farmers and ranchers. In reality, the money is often used for lobbying that influences legislation and government action, leading to anti-competitive practices. The end result is smaller, independent, and less well-resourced farmers and ranchers paying into a program that actively works against them. This bill prohibits unfair or unlawful practices and requires greater transparency, accountability, and oversight.
Farm System Reform Act of 2023
Reintroduced 02/02/2023 (Senator Cory Booker [D-NJ]; Representative Ro Khanna [D-CA-17])
Would 1) strengthen the Packers & Stockyards Act to crack down on the monopolistic practices of meatpackers and corporate integrators; 2) place a federal moratorium on large factory farms, sometimes referred to as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and support the transition to a more resilient food system; and 3) restore mandatory country-of-origin labeling requirements.
Industrial Agriculture Accountability Act of 2023
Reintroduced 02/02/2023 (Senator Cory Booker [D-NJ]; Representative James McGovern [D-MA-2])
This bill would:
Place the liability for responsible disaster mitigation, including emergency depopulation, on corporations and industrial operators and require those entities to register with USDA and submit disaster preparedness plans.
Strengthen animal welfare standards by restricting inhumane depopulation methods, ensuring the human treatment of animals during extreme weather events and transportation, mandating the inclusion of poultry in the Human Methods of Slaughter Act, and prohibiting the slaughter of and humanely euthanizing all downed animals.
Enforce minimum labor standards and compensate affected contract growers and other workers,
Reform slaughterhouse operations by ending line-speed increases and meatpacker self-inspection programs for animal slaughter, and
Strengthening Local Processing Act of 2023
Reintroduced 02/09/23 (Senator John Thune, [R-SD]; Representative Chellie Pingree [D-ME-1])
Would help build local food systems in areas where livestock are being raised and support smaller producers (rather than national companies). Specifically, this bill would support small local meat and poultry processing facilities, including funding for training and technical assistance, helping smaller producers compete and get their products to market. Building local food systems will make the supply chain more resilient, lower prices, and create employment opportunities, revitalizing communities and delivering quality, locally-raised meat and poultry to restaurants, retailers, and consumers.
EQIP Improvement Act
Introduced 03/06/23 (Senator Cory Booker [D-NJ]); 08/22/23 (Representative Jahana Hayes [D-CT])
The bill would ensure that more producers, particularly smaller farmers and ranchers, can participate in EQIP, funding the most effective conservation practices and giving states more flexibility in implementing the program. It would reduce the overall payment cap on EQIP contracts, reduce federal cost-sharing for practices that provide little or no environmental benefits, and eliminate a requirement that 50% of EQIP funding flow to livestock operators.
Equity and Food Security
Justice for Black Farmers Act of 2023 (NSAC)
Reintroduced 01/26/23 (Senator Cory Booker [D-NJ]); 02/24/23 (Representative Alma Adams [D-NC-12])
In 1920, there were nearly 1 million Black farmers in the US. Today, due in large part to historic discrimination within federal farm assistance and lending at the USDA, there are estimated to be less than 50,000 remaining Black farmers. This bill would enact policies to end discrimination within the USDA, protect Black farmers from losing their land, provide land grants to encourage a new generation of Black farmers and restore the land base that has been lost. The bill provides substantial resources for 1890 Land-Grant Institutions to help Black farmers and includes funding for all HBCUs to expand their agriculture research and courses of study.
Protecting America’s Meatpacking Workers Act of 2023
Reintroduced 02/02/23 (Senator Cory Booker [D-NJ]; Representative Ro Khanna [D-CA-17])
Would expand workplace safety and health protections for meat and poultry processing workers, ensuring safer line processing speeds and inspections, requiring adherence to OSHA standards, and ending punitive attendance policies. The bill includes meatpacking system reforms that crack down on monopolistic practices of large corporate companies, creating a fairer market that allows smaller independent farmers and ranchers and local food systems to thrive.
Opt for Health with SNAP (OH SNAP)
Introduced 06/15/23 (Senator Cory Booker [D-NJ]; Representative Lisa Rochester [D-DE])
This bill would significantly expand the successful Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP), which funds state/local governments and nonprofits to provide point-of-sale incentives for SNAP recipients to purchase fruits and vegetables (e.g., Double Up Food Bucks). The bill would scale up mandatory funding to $3.5 billion over 5 years and authorize $100 million in discretionary financing annually for 5 years. It would also eliminate the local cost-share requirement, which has prevented local implementers from being able to apply for and sustain the program. GusNIP positively impacts public health and local economies, particularly fruit and vegetable farmers, who benefit from reliable access to expanded local markets.
Even though the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that 50% of a person’s diet should be fruits and vegetables, less than 10% of current farm bill agricultural subsidies go to fruit and vegetable farmers. Instead, most subsidies go toward commodity crops like corn and soy, predominantly used in feed for animals, ethanol, or processed foods.
Increasing Land Access, Security and Opportunities Act
Introduced 06/09/23 (Representative Nicki Budzinski [D-IL-13])
Bill number: H.R.3955 (no Senate version as of 09/12/23)
Would help young, beginning, and Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC) farmers gain access to land, capital, and markets, the biggest barriers for new and underserved farmers and ranchers. The bill would expand the USDA Increasing Land, Capital, and Market Access Program, providing critical resources to implement farmland access, retention, and transition projects. The proposed $100 million of annual funding over ten years would complement the USDA’s existing farm production and conservation programs and be available to individuals and a wide variety of entities, such as tribes, municipalities, non-profits, and cooperatives.
Farmer to Farmer Education Act of 2023
Introduced 07/27/23 (Senator Ben Ray Luján [D-NM]; Senator Jerry Moran [R-KS])
Bill number: S.2614 (no House version as of 09/12/23)
The bill would foster knowledge sharing by investing in farmer-led education networks—particularly in communities historically marginalized from existing systems—as a key strategy to increase the adoption of conservation practices. Specifically, the bill would authorize the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to enter into cooperative agreements with community-based organizations in states to support established farmer-to-farmer education networks and build capacity for new ones. Young farmers can learn from trusted community members, ensuring they receive information relevant to their cultural farming and ranching practices.
Relief for Farmers Hit with PFAS Act
Introduced 03/09/23 (Senator Susan Collins [R-ME]; Representative Chellie Pingree [D-ME-1])
Authorizes grants for states to provide financial assistance to affected farmers, who through no fault of their own are at risk of losing their livelihoods, expand monitoring and testing, remediate PFAS, or even help farmers relocate.
SIGN ON LETTERS JOINED BY THE SIERRA CLUB
**Conservation Stewardship Program Funding**
Requests Congress to stair-step mandatory funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) to $4 billion annually in the 2023 Farm Bill. The CSP generates far greater return on investment than other approaches to conservation, making CSP one of the most responsible places to invest public funds. However, it is underfunded and oversubscribed.
Asking for increased funding for CSP is one way to protect the $20 billion in IRA climate-smart agriculture investments.
**Defeat EATS Coalition**
Letter opposing the Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression (EATS) Act
Coalition members include Sierra Club, Farm Action, ASPCA, Health Care Without Harm, NRDC, and many more.
Introduced 06/15/22 (Senator Roger Marshall [R-KS]); 06/30/23 (Representative Ashley Hinson [R-IA-2])
Harvard Law School legislative analysis
The dangerous and overarching EATS Act, modeled after an amendment originally crafted by former Representative Steve King, would thwart states’ ability to govern. States long have had authority to regulate the health, safety, and moral aspects of goods sold within their borders, regardless of their state or country of origin. The EATS Act could wipe out thousands of state laws and create a race-to-the-bottom when it comes to the production and sale of agricultural products. It mandates that if any state tolerates a preharvest production practice, no matter how hazardous, destructive, or inhumane to people or animals, other states must allow the sale of that product.
Why is it so important to fix the Farm Bill?
Agriculture has a profound effect on life in this country.
On the environment: Agriculture is one of the main causes of climate change. About 24% of greenhouse gas that is generated in the U.S. can be attributed to farms, especially factory farms called CAFOs. Runoff from farms pollutes our water; pesticides pollute our air. Raising plants with chemical fossil fuel based fertilizers damages the soil. And growing crops uses an enormous percentage of the land in this country: Over half is used for agricultural purposes, including monocropping, grazing (on pasture, range, and in forests), and farmsteads/farm roads.
On our health: The American diet—which is controlled by the Farm Bill in many ways–is responsible for the high level of chronic disease in this country. Over 60% of Americans have a health condition, 40% have two or more. Too much meat, sugar, and fat lead to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and strokes, which are among the highest causes of mortality.
In our society: Agri-business exacerbates inequality: most of the benefits go to the wealthy while marginalized groups—socially disadvantaged farmers, beginning farmers, veteran farmers—receive less benefit.
In short, we (taxpayers and eaters) pay three ways: at the market, in taxes used to subsidize production, and in equity, healthcare and environmental impact costs.
The Sierra Club supports agricultural policies and practices designed to provide abundant healthful food, fiber and other services for all communities while maintaining the fertility of the soil and protecting the Earth's climate and the native diversity of plants and animals.
The Farm Bill, rather than addressing these issues and finding solutions, makes them worse:
- The Bill supports the biggest farms, most of which farm in ways that are most harmful to the environment.
- The Bill's subsidies go mostly to commodity crops, like soy and corn, which are used for animal feed, biofuels and in highly-processed foods.
- Cheap commodity crops make CAFOs and monocropping lucrative; both cause enormous harm to people and the environment.
Funding priorities are misplaced, resulting in big backlogs of legitimate applications for conservation programs. Addressing climate change, nutrient density of food, and ending pollution should be facilitated and rewarded. Practices that do neither should not be funded. Right now, every sector of the economy is reducing their emissions but one – agriculture. But incentives are not enough. We must also change farm subsidy programs (crop insurance) so that we do not reward overproduction on marginal lands, but instead increase the health and resilience of our productive farmland and rural economies.
The Farm bill also funds programs we support and fight for. About 75% of the funds go to nutrition assistance programs that reduce poverty and hunger. There are programs that help young farmers and socially disadvantaged farmers, programs that fund conservation stewardship to reduce runoff, programs that provide information on nutrition. But funds for these programs are often diverted to agribusiness. That is because agribusiness has one of the most powerful lobbies in the country—agribusiness companies pay about $1.6 billion for the services of these lobbyists. Part of fixing the Farm Bill involves reducing agribusiness influence and raising environmental voices.
What is our plan for fixing the Farm Bill?
There are many organizations working on these issues at the highest levels. Coalitions the Sierra Club works with include the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the Rural Coalition, and the Clean Water for All Coalition. But we need to do more: we're going to ask people to educate themselves (see our Learn More section), talk to everyone they know, engage with people wherever they can find them (farmers' markets, CSAs, street festivals, PTA meetings, etc), and distribute simple brochures that they can print themselves. And we're asking them to recruit more volunteers—we hope to enlist thousands of people to spread the message. We'll help you engage interested volunteers:
- We're hosting screenings of a movie about CAFOs, Right to Harm.
- We will provide each interested chapter with a copy of The Farm Bill, A Citizen's Guide, by Dan Imhoff (Island Press, 2019) and Bet the Farm, the Dollars and Sense about Growing Food in America by Beth Hoffman (Island Press, 2021).
- We'll be sending out Calls to Action and facilitating your connecting with your Representative and Senators to let them know where you stand.
Yes, we realize that everyone is busy and that there are many other issues that need to be addressed. But if we alert enough people of the huge impact of the Farm Bill on climate, water, air, and ecosystem health, not to mention equity and justice – it just might work.
What are our priorities for the Farm Bill?
- Conservation and Regeneration: Improve and increase funding for conservation programs, promote regenerative organic agriculture, and reduce water pollution
- Build Local, Eat Local: Lower barriers to SNAP benefits and boost funding for local food promotion and sourcing programs
- Food Not Feed: Redirect funding from industrial corn, soy, and CAFOs towards regenerative practices and nutrition/conservation programs
- Justice for All: Support small, BIPOC, and beginning farmers and ranchers through land access, debt relief, and other programs, and integrate the Justice 40 Initiative into the USDA's programs
What is the history of the Farm Bill?
In the 1930s, as the U.S. suffered through the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, Congress passed President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal legislation, which included the Farm Bill. The Farm Bill had three goals:
- keep food prices fair for farmers and consumers
- ensure an adequate food supply
- protect and sustain the country's natural resources
The Farm Bill is called an omnibus bill. It covers food assistance, subsidies (crop insurance), forestry, and conservation all in one bill. These topics are separated into 12 sections, called Titles. You can find a full list of them here.
In many ways, the Farm Bill guides what is grown in this country and how. Therefore, it has a huge impact on the environment and what we eat.
"THE FARM BILL CONNECTS THE FOOD ON OUR PLATES, THE FARMERS AND RANCHERS WHO PRODUCE THAT FOOD, AND THE NATURAL RESOURCES – OUR SOIL, AIR, AND WATER – THAT MAKE GROWING FOOD POSSIBLE." NATIONAL SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE COALITION
The Farm Bill is enacted every five years; the last one was enacted into law in December 2018 and expires in 2023. The next Farm Bill must be passed before the last one expires. The bill is written and negotiated by the Senate and House Committees on Agriculture.
It is written and negotiated by these two bipartisan committees and then debated and passed by the full Congress.
How much does the Farm Bill cost?
The projected cost of the 2018 Farm Bill was $428 billion over five years. Here's how it was divided:
- Total: $428 billion (2019-2023)
- Nutrition: 76% (example: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, "SNAP")
- Crop Insurance: 9%
- Commodities: 7%
- Conservation: 7% (example: Conservation Stewardship Program, "CSP")
- Other: 1% (includes Miscellaneous, Horticulture, Forestry, Rural Development, Credit, Research, and everything else)
What other agricultural legislation is important?
The Farm Bill is not the only legislation that affects agriculture. Many issues, such as farm- and food-worker rights and protections, public land grazing rights, FDA food safety, clean water, and school meals are not included in the Farm Bill.
In addition, state laws and agriculture departments regulate how food is grown and workers are treated in every state. The Sierra Club has been particularly active in promoting soil health legislation across the country.
Many legislators attempt to influence the Farm Bill in advance by introducing "marker bills," which could see their changes incorporated into the next Farm Bill. The Sierra Club supports the following bills:
- The Farm System Reform Act, which would set a nationwide moratorium on new and expanding factory farms, provide funds for farmers to switch to pasture-based grazing or crop farming, and establish some fair market rules for the livestock industry.
- The Climate Stewardship Act, which would increase funding for agricultural conservation programs and improve their performance by focusing their efforts on the most environmentally beneficial practices.
- The Agriculture Resilience Act, which would strengthen the climate commitments and funding of many Farm Bill programs.
We hope you will ask your members of Congress to pass these positive steps toward a more sustainable and ethical food system.
We are monitoring other marker bills as they are being introduced.