Top agricultural influencers met last week at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to discuss the direction of the 2018 Farm Bill at a forum hosted by the Farm Foundation, a non-profit group that works for sound agricultural public policy.

The panelists included Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives; Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group; and Daren Bakst, an agricultural research policy fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Opinions varied on the next Farm Bill – from farm subsidies to government regulation.

Faber voiced concern about farm conservation and stewardship practices and said that voluntary incentives alone are not working. He would like to see requirements for farmers to show basic conservation in return for subsidies and believes the key to safer food and water is through incentives and clearer regulation.

Bakst sees a need for federal intervention to be passed on to state and local levels to ease regulatory burdens, specifically in the case of water conservation. On subsidies, he believes farmers currently are insulated from market forces, shallow crop loss coverage has distorted farmers’ planting decisions, which might harm stewardship judgement, and subsidies should only cover deep crop losses for the market to hold more power.

Bakst believes the nutrition title of the Farm Bill and the other titles (as a whole) can be addressed and passed individually to achieve more reforms. Conner reminded the panel that is it quite early to begin talks on the 2018 Farm Bill, considering that some of the 2014 Farm Bill provisions have yet to be implemented. He noted that it is unusual for a bill to be drafted in a period of low and declining farm income.

The “success of the Farm Bill depends on our ability to tap into that grassroots populism” that elected the Trump administration, Conner said. He stressed the importance of getting the bill passed on time to minimize the amount of uncertainty for lenders and farmers, and was optimistic about the bill being farmer-friendly with key players in the House and Senate.