When House and Senate versions of a farm bill were sent to a conference committee earlier this year, it appeared the major sticking point would be work requirements for food stamp recipients that were included in the House version. A deteriorating financial landscape for farmers and ranchers, however, has blown open the farm bill talks to go back to the basics of funding levels for various parts of the farm safety net, according to Pro Farmer Washington policy analyst Jim Wiesemeyer.
“(House Ag Committee Chairman Mike) Conaway wants to talk policy first and then see what funding is needed to get that policy,” Wiesemeyer says. “The Senate, however, wants to come up with specific maximum levels by title as far as funding and that’ll lock in certain areas where it doesn’t give you as much wiggle room. There’s also battles internally going on to which title gets how much funding because apparently the Senate wants to make rather significant changes in the farmer safety net.”
If there are significant changes to be made to the farm safety net in addition to the divide over food stamp work requirements, it is unlikely that a new farm bill will be approved by the conference committee before the current bill expires at the end of the month.
According to Wiesemeyer, these added issues are likely what prompted President Donald Trump to tweet about the farm bill negotiations late last week.
“That’s what got Trump taking on (Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member) Debbie Stabenow where he put out his tweet saying that she’s, from Trump’s perspective, standing in the way of substantial progress of meeting that farm bill target by the end of this month,” Wiesemeyer says.
Work on the new farm bill started more than two years ago. The financial landscape in agriculture has changed dramatically since then and that is driving the Senate desire to revisit how farm support money and policy is divided.
“This is almost like a mini farm bill debate within the conference over the so-called ‘core principles’ all over again, because those battles were not yet completed in the farm bill debate,” Wiesemeyer says.
“Remember it used to be called shallow loss payments program,” Wiesemeyer explains. “Now the corn and soybean industries need a big loss payment program because that's the years we're into now.”
As Wiesemeyer points out, any payment program involving corn production can quickly balloon costs because of the vast numbers of acres and bushels involved.
“So where are you going to get the funding?” he asks.
That may ultimately force Congress to extend the 2014 farm bill past the Sept. 30 expiration.
“I watched that 2014 Farm Bill closer than any farm bill either ever done, and I've been here since the mid 70s. Senator Stabenow and her staff usually get what they want,” Wiesmeyer says. “Boy, if you have Stabenow continuing to push hard line positions like she did in the 2014 Farm Bill…you're not going to have an agreement by the end of the month.”
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