Waiting in the Wings

October 30, 2018 02:26 PM
The 2018 farm bill could still get approved before the year ends

Once the dust settles from the upcoming midterm elections, farm bill discussions should 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 necessary back-tracking. “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 delays until 2019, the new farm bill will take 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, are a sticking point in House discussions. Both programs were enacted under the 2014 farm bill to help protect farmers from price volatility. But some members of the House say farmers in their respective states have benefitted less from the programs than farmers in other states—because 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 I hope get the oxygen to be fully understood,” Wiesemeyer says. “The overall safety net [could be] far more effective than it is now.”

PLC payments have triggered for 2017 corn, grain sorghum, wheat and a number of other crops. Producers with bases enrolled in ARC for 2017 crops can visit bit.ly/ARC-PLC for updated crop yields, prices, revenue and payment rates.

With the lapse of the 2014 farm bill, Wiesemeyer says there is concern for 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 Dec. 31, along with funding for the Foreign Market Development Program.

Wiesemeyer says Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue is looking for funding within USDA to address the orphan programs 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 built an escape clause inherently short-term [to keep the programs operating], but this can’t go on for too much longer.”

For up-to-date news and analysis on the farm bill, visit www.AgWeb.com/farm-bill

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