U.S. agricultural policy—often simply called farm policy—generally follows a 5-year legislative cycle that produces a wide-ranging “Farm Bill.” Farm Bills, or Farm Acts, govern programs related to farming, food and nutrition, and rural communities, as well as aspects of bioenergy and forestry. The most recent of these Farm Bills, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Act), authorizes policies in the areas of commodity programs and crop insurance, conservation on agricultural lands, agricultural trade (including foreign food assistance), nutrition (primarily domestic food assistance), farm credit, rural economic development, agricultural research, State and private forestry, bioenergy, and horticulture and organic agriculture. The 2018 Farm Bill replaces the 2014 Farm Bill, in place from 2014 through 2018.
Further details on crop commodity policy and crop insurance programs under the Farm Bill are available on the Farm & Commodity Policy subpages. Other ERS pages provide access to further details on 2018 Farm Bill provisions related to:
- Beginning, Socially Disadvantaged, and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers
- Dairy & Livestock Policy
- Local and Regional Foods
- Organic Agriculture
- Research, Extension, and Related Matters
- Rural Development
- Specialty Crops
The U.S. Farm Bill modifies standing legislation across the full range of policy areas that it governs, which can vary from Farm Bill to Farm Bill, depending on policy concerns at the time. In some cases, particularly for commodity, conservation, and rural development programs, new Farm Bills extend, revise, and replace provisions of previous Farm Bills. In other cases, provisions of a new Farm Bill extend, revise, and replace language in laws regulating areas that overlap Farm Bill authorities, including food and nutrition, food safety, trade, credit, research and extension, forestry, food safety, organic production, pesticides, and crop insurance.
In all of these cases, provisions of previous and related legislation not altered by a new Farm Bill remain in place. As a result, some programs and regulations affecting U.S. food and agriculture policy may be governed by legislation other than the current Farm Bill.
Agricultural policy can also evolve between Farm Bills. For example, programs detailed in the Farm Bill are not always implemented in Farm Bill years—as the programs often require rulemaking, staff education, and outreach before being fully deployed. Other programs related to food and agriculture—typically ad hoc measures that respond to unforeseen events—are often authorized by legislation in non-Farm Bill years. In addition, there may be discretionary changes to existing programs in response to market conditions or other developments. Details on the most recent year's developments in agricultural policies can be found in the ERS report U.S. Agricultural Policy Review, 2021.
ERS researchers examine the arena of food and agriculture policy across a broad spectrum of topics. For access to the scope of this work, visitors are encouraged to search the guides to ERS topic pages in areas related to their policy interests, listed below.
- Animal Products
- Farm Economy
- Food & Nutrition Assistance
- Food Choices & Health
- Food Markets & Prices
- Food Safety
- Natural Resources & Environment
- Rural Economy & Population
Also within this topic page are details on U.S. reporting of domestic agricultural support to two international organizations, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The United States is obligated to report its spending on domestic agricultural support to the WTO each year. These “notifications” allow the WTO Committee on Agriculture to track levels and types of domestic support provided by members to their agriculture sectors and to determine whether that spending remains within agreed limits.
As a member of the OECD, the United States participates in the organization’s annual agricultural policy monitoring and evaluation exercise. Using data and policy details supplied by the United States, OECD develops the Producer Support Estimate (PSE) and related measures that allow comparison of government support to agriculture across member countries and in selected nonmember countries.