As expected, the one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill expired Sept. 30 without Congress reconciling the two competing bills passed by the House and Senate earlier this year. The House did pass a rule by a 226-191 vote Sept. 28 to combine the House farm and nutrition bills, paving the way for lawmakers to name House and Senate conferees to resolve the legislation. First, however, Congress will immediately need to address the current self-inflicted crisis over its inability to pass a Continuing Resolution to fund government operations past Sept. 30. With temporary funding in place, lawmakers can then tackle the larger issue of increasing the national debt limit in mid-October or allow the nation to default on its debt, risking a world-wide fiscal calamity. Debate on the Farm Bill will be further postponed. As of Oct. 1, most of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was closed due to the government shutdown. The USDA's website went offline, rerouting users to an Office of Management and Budget website with links about the shutdown contingency plans, including the USDA's various agencies such as the Risk Management Agency.
According to an internal audit released this September, the USDA crop insurance program that reimburses farmers for "prevented planting" creates disincentives for them to raise crops. The program has provided coverage of more than $480 million in "potentially excessive prevented planting payments," the audit states. The USDA's Risk Management Agency (RMA) has agreed to consult with USDA attorneys to determine if it will be lawful to reduce the historic yields of farmers who claim prevented planting. The RMA said it will determine if coverage levels are excessive by June 2014, allowing for potential policy changes for the 2015 crop year.
The USDA approved three new biotechnology innovations Sept. 25, including Monsanto's glyphosate resistant canola, male-sterile corn and Genective's glyphosate resistant corn. This final decision follows a preliminary deregulation in July by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). As a result, the agency will no longer monitor the field testing or movement of the plants. Agriculature Secretary Tom Vilsack says APHIS's new accelerated deregulation process aims to complete approval of genetically engineered plants in 1.3 years on average.