While there are so many loose ends on Capitol Hill, one thing is certain: Change is coming.
Farm bill. At press time, optimism was waning that the House and Senate will reach an agreement on a five-year farm bill before year-end. Without a compromise, farm policy reverts back to 1949 permanent law or yet another costly extension goes into effect. According to Sara Wyant, editor of Agri-Pulse, the biggest hindrances to the real deal include:
- Food stamp reform and the work requirements in the House bill.
- How to compromise on the commodity title. The House bill includes a choice of price-based and revenue-based subsidies and bases calculations on planted acres. The Senate bill focuses on revenue supports and historic base acres.
- Whether or not conservation compliance should be linked to crop insurance.
- How to make dairy policy more market oriented.
"If a new farm bill does indeed pass, USDA will need at least six months to tackle the back-end work before the new programs reach the farm," Wyant adds. "The working lands conservation programs should be straightforward to continue."
Renewable Fuel Standard. Maybe more vital than the farm bill, Wyant says, is the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). For 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to lower the RFS from 18.15 billion gallons to 15.21 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel for blending into fuel. The proposal will go to a 60-day comment period before becoming final.
"Final" is a long ways off, though. "It’s pretty clear that biofuel groups will sue EPA over the new rules," says Scott Irwin, University of Illinois agricultural economist. "Where we ultimately come out will probably rest in the hands of a D.C. judge."
Regulatory hurdles. From the Food Safety Modernization Act and labeling genetically modified foods to the 2008 Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan and Clean Water Act, the push to regulate modern-day production agriculture is real. As 2013 comes to a close, 12 states along the Mississippi River are finalizing their Gulf hypoxia action plans to help reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus flowing into the Gulf.
"While there won’t be ‘runoff police,’ there will be pressure for farmers to adopt BMPs [best management practices]," says John Dillard, Farm Journal legal columnist. "If the BMPs aren’t sufficient to meet the goals, we are stepping into unknown territory as far as EPA’s authority to mandate changes in production practices."
In 2014, keep a close eye on the Chesapeake Bay’s approach to reducing total maximum daily loads because it is the blueprint for how EPA plans to address all other major watersheds.
For More Information
Read Dillard's Ag in the Courtroom blog.
Many of these topics were discussed at the 2013 Farm Journal Forum. Read full coverage of the event.
This is one of the 14 Drivers for Success in 2014. Read the full list from Farm Journal's December issue.