Farm Bill Unlikely Before Lame Duck Session

Sep 27, 2018

With the end of Fiscal Year 2018 approaching this weekend, time will run out on the farm bill. Major programs, including crop insurance and Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, will continue because they are permanently authorized and funded.

The 2014 Act also provides funding through the marketing year for 2018 program crops, but the dairy program will expire at the end of December. While the Conservation Reserve Program is permanently funded, its authority will lapse in October, meaning that U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will honor existing contracts but not be able to enter into new ones. Then there are 39 so-called “orphan” programs that will lose both authorization and funding on Oct. 1, including certain conservation programs, most bioenergy (biofuels), rural development and agricultural research programs.

The Foreign Market Development (FMD) program will lose authorization and funding on Oct. 1, while the Market Access Program (MAP) will remain authorized and funded through December.  ASA has worked with other trade associations that participate in FMD and MAP to maintain authorization and increase funding for these export promotion programs in the new farm bill.

Negotiations between the House and Senate on the 2018 farm bill have bogged down on several issues, including the SNAP work requirements in the House bill.  A compromise under which waivers of these requirements by states would be restricted has been floated, but no agreement is in sight.

Another provision in the House bill would make base acres that weren’t planted to a program crop in 2009 to 2017 ineligible for Title 1 payments under Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC). Savings from this change would be used to allow producers who experienced severe drought in 2009 to 2012 to update their yields under the PLC program. The base change provision is controversial because farmers who have been allowed to underplant their base and receive payments since the 1996 Farm Bill would have their base and payments taken away.

It is highly unlikely that Congress will return to Washington in October to finish the farm bill. The annual appropriations process for Fiscal Year 2019 has made more progress than in recent years, with a package of three of the 12 bills signed into law by President Donald Trump earlier this month.

Other packages are still stymied, including one that includes agricultural appropriations. However, a catch-all Continuing Resolution is included in a bill that also covers appropriations for the Department of Defense, which is considered “must pass” legislation. Assuming the CR passes and is signed by the President, funding for the government will continue until it expires on Dec. 7.

Legislators will return after the Nov. 6 mid-term elections to elect new leaders for the 116th Congress, but won’t get around to finishing the spending bills and trying to finalize the farm bill until after Thanksgiving.

ASA and its state affiliates are calling on Congress to complete the next farm bill this year rather than consider an extension when they come back to Washington. A short-term extension would avoid the “dairy cliff” at the end of December, but would mean starting the farm bill process over again with a new Congress and potentially new members and leaders of the Agriculture Committees.

Faced with continuing low prices and a volatile trade environment, no one in production agriculture wants to see added uncertainty in the support provided through the farm bill.  As a result, and if the farm bill isn’t finished in the lame duck session, there has been discussion of possibly extending the 2014 Farm Bill for three years – beyond the term of the next Congress and hopefully to a more stable farm economy.