Members of Congress are officially on a three-week recess, ironically, to focus on midterm elections in November. They’ll have a lot of explaining to do with their farm constituents, however, when talking about their failure to approve the 2018 farm bill on schedule.
Although House and Senate farm bill negotiators said they were close to a compromise on a final bill last week, they couldn’t seal the deal before the current farm bill expired on September 30. Andrew Walmsley, director of congressional relations for American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), believes that lawmakers have a different time-frame for the passage of a new farm bill.
“The mood in Washington is the real deadline is maybe not until December,” he said. Walmsley warned that “the situation could get ‘daunting’ and create uncertainty for the industry since it would essentially mean restarting the whole process for a new bill in 2019 with a new Congress.”
AFBF President Zippy Duvall also warned that without a farm bill in place, farmers, already struggling with a sagging farm economy and an uncertain trade situation, will soon face a new set of problems that comes with not knowing if the risk management programs they need to qualify for operating loans will be there.
“The sky won’t fall right away,” Duvall said. “Residual effects of programs that have been in place until now will keep working for a little while - but time will run out. And the longer it takes to get the new farm bill passed, the greater the harm to confidence in our farm economy. The proverbial runway is short—weeks at best.”
Though the House’s three-week recess means lawmakers won’t be in D.C. voting, it is an opportunity for farmers to hold their members’ feet to the fire on the farm bill, according to Cody Lyon, managing director of advocacy and political affairs for AFBF.
“Over the past year, farmers have delivered a strong message to Congress about the need for a farm bill—delivered on-time—that provides the programs and resources that agriculture relies so heavily on,” Lyons said. “We encourage you to call your district offices, or better yet, seek out your members in person at campaign events and other activities, and ask them what they’re personally doing to get the farm bill over the finish line.”
According to the University of Illinois, Department of Agricultural Economics, expiration of the 2014 farm bill will impact different programs in different ways. The current crop commodity programs expire with crop year 2018. If Congress does not reauthorize the programs or extend existing programs commodity assistance is scheduled to revert to the parity system of the Agricultural Act of 1949.
Crop insurance, by comparison, is permanently authorized and is not impacted by expiration. For the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the benefits are generally authorized on a permanent basis but authorizations for funding parts of the program expire with the 2018 fiscal year. Appropriators, however, are expected to continue funding program operations so long as the Federal government remains open. For conservation programs, the authority to enter into new contracts will expire with the fiscal year (September 30, 2018) but programs and existing contracts will continue.