Farm Bill Funding May Test Traditional Alliances

Posted: 11/27/2017

By John Gordley

As talks continue on the 2018 Farm Bill, the current state of the U.S. farm economy has prompted farm organizations to encourage the House and Senate Agriculture Committees to write the legislation in a way that helps farmers better respond to shifting market conditions. These tactics range in their scope and approach, but all involve the same concept: increased spending.

There are number of different scenarios for how to pass a farm bill, but most lawmakers agree that efforts to increase funding for the bill vary from unlikely to outright impossible. Conversely, several legislative efforts are afoot to significantly reduce funding for farm programs, including reducing the premium subsidy for the federal crop insurance program, capping indemnities or means-testing participant income.

And opponents of the farm bill only grow bolder. A recent summit on the bill sponsored by activist groups on the far left and the far right highlighted the fact that they have no difficulty uniting to attack the farm and food safety nets. This means that each segment of the economy that benefits from the farm bill—from farmers to conservationists to the anti-hunger community—must join together in advocating new legislation in 2018.

Needing to be addressed are the Agriculture Risk Coverage program at the county level – which CBO indicates would require an additional $1.5 billion over 10 years – and the Foreign Market Development program and Market Access Program. A coalition of farm groups are advocating to double funds for these export promotion programs to access foreign markets in the absence of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and potential changes in NAFTA, KORUS and other existing trade agreements.

Additionally, cotton growers are asking for a new program, dairy producers want to make their Margin Protection Program more effective and wheat farmers are seeking an increase in their reference price under the Price Loss Program. The agricultural industry also strongly supports a doubling of spending on agricultural research, and nearly 40 farm bill programs lack any baseline at all – each of which has vocal proponents.

But the zero-sum nature of farm bill spending stands in the way of these goals. According to the Congressional Budget Office, no additional funding would be needed if the 2014 Farm Bill were simply extended. However, unless new funding is provided, an increase to one program would need to be offset by a cut to another within the bill. It is easy to see how this scenario could pit farm bill proponents against each another. In fact, it is what opponents in Congress and the anti-farm bill activist community are hoping for.

There is at least $15 billion estimated in new funding needs for the 2018 Farm Bill. Unless Congress provides additional funding, the House and Senate Agriculture Committees and groups that support enactment of the bill are facing some tough decisions in the next few months. In addition, traditional alliances between aggies, conservationists, rural advocates and the anti-hunger community could be severely tested.

John Gordley is president of Gordley Associates, a government relations firm based in Washington, D.C.

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