Once the dust settles from the upcoming midterm elections, farmers are likely to see discussions on the farm bill resume when Congress reconvenes in mid-November. With any luck, a new farm bill will be minted before the year is out, notes Pro Farmer Washington policy analyst Jim Wiesemeyer.
“I have not bought, and will not buy into, the argument that this will be punted to 2019. Of course, it could be, but I don't see it [happening],” he says.
Wiesemeyer says one reason Congress won’t want the farm bill delayed until 2019 is because of the back-tracking that would need to occur. “The bill would have to be reintroduced and go through the subcommittees again,” he says. “Then you’d have those spirited arguments on the floor in sensitive areas under pay caps, the sugar program and crop insurance.”
If Congress had to backtrack in 2019, the new farm bill would likely take several months to complete, says Stephanie Mercier, Senior Policy and Advocacy Adviser for the Farm Journal Foundation.
“That would create a farm bill lapse of at least six months and probably longer, which would be unprecedented in recent farm bill history,” notes Mercier, who served as the chief economist for the Democratic staff of the Senate agriculture committee between 1997 and 2011.
Wiesemeyer says resource allocations to farmers, as outlined by the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs in Title 1, the commodity title, have been a sticking point in House discussions. Both programs were enacted under the 2014 farm bill to help protect farmers from price volatility. However, some members of the House say farmers in their respective states have benefitted less from the programs than farmers in other states—that the way the payments are assessed and distributed are unfair.
“I think it’s good they’re discussing this; these are some of the issues that I hope get the oxygen to fully understand this rather than talking points of people who just don't want any changes,” Wiesemeyer says. “This can be spread around to make the overall safety net far more effective than it is now.”
PLC payments have triggered for 2017 barley, canola, corn, grain sorghum, wheat and other crops, according to a USDA press release. In the next few months payments will be triggered for rice, chickpeas, sunflower seeds and additional crops. Producers with bases enrolled in ARC for 2017 crops can visit USDA at bit.ly/2OoO1OH for updated crop yields, prices, revenue and payment rates. The estimated payments are before application of sequestration and other reductions and limits, including adjusted gross income limits and payment limitations.
With the lapse of the 2014 farm bill, Wiesemeyer says there is concern what will become of the 39 so-called orphan programs that will have no funding in 2019. Most trade and food aid programs will expire on Dec. 31, 2018, as will funding for the Foreign Market Development Program (FMD). Once expiration occurs, authority for USDA to finance or provide emergency or non-emergency food aid ends, putting the staff and offices of numerous commodity promotion programs in jeopardy. While some commodity groups say they have reserves to keep their FMD funded offices open for a few months past expiration, eventually those offices would close, and staff would no longer be paid.
Wiesemeyer says Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is looking for additional funding within USDA to address the orphan programs that are set to lapse but won’t likely have the money to fund all of them.
“We need a new farm bill in order to get mandatory funding,” Wiesemeyer says. “I think some of the market development groups had built an escape clause inherently short-term [to keep the programs operating], but this can't go on for too much longer.”