The farm lobby's main concern is with the agricultural subsidies in the farm bill. But it also opposes the food-stamp divorce performed by the House. This is partly a matter of political necessity. Just 35 of the 435 congressional districts have agriculture as their dominant industry. "In our opinion, if you separate the two, you would no longer have a farm bill," Bob Stallman, the president of the Farm Bureau, told me. Farmers have another interest in continued food-stamp funding. The SNAP payments constitute another massive subsidy to food producers, giving consumers the money to buy their products. "Food stamps have become a large part of the demand for the food that we raise as farmers," Don Villwock, the white-mustached president of the Indiana Farm Bureau, told me. "When you have one in five Americans on food assistance, that's 20 percent of the demand for food in this country."
In favoring a farm bill that combines agriculture supports with food stamps, the farm lobby parts ways with the GOP's ideological right wing, and sides with the Obama Administration, which has disappointed environmentalists by not aggressively seeking farm-policy reforms. (The agribusiness sector spent $112 million lobbying Congress in 2013, according to the Center for Responsive Politics—more than the defense industry. The Farm Bureau alone employs 52 Washington lobbyists.)
The dynamic is similar when it comes to immigration reform to legalize the millions of illegal workers currently living in the U.S. and create new guest-worker programs. The Heritage Foundation and a hard-right faction in Congress oppose such a policy. But farm leaders paint a grim picture of crops rotting on the vine, and even farmers giving up their land, because of a shortage of workers. In a survey conducted by the California Farm Bureau, 71 percent of tree-fruit growers and nearly 80 percent of raisin and berry growers couldn't find enough pickers.