Farm Bill Unlikely Before Lame Duck Session

Posted: 9/27/2018

By John Gordley

With the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 on Sept. 30, time will run out on the Agricultural Act of 2014. Major programs, including crop insurance and Supplemental Nutrition 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 the 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. A coalition of farm groups that participate in FMD and MAP have been working to maintain authorization and increased 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 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 under-plant 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 FY 2019 has made more progress than in recent years. Congressional appropriators decided on a bipartisan basis early this year to keep policy disputes out of the FY 2019 spending bills in the interest of finishing them on time. The strategy has paid off. A minibus of three of the 12 bills (Energy & Water / Legislative Branch / Military Construction-Veteran Affairs) was passed in mid-September and signed into law by President Trump on Sept. 21. And today, the President signed another mini-bus (Department of Defense / Labor-HHS-Education) that cleared Congress earlier this week, which also included a catch-all Continuing Resolution for all remaining appropriations at current levels through Dec. 7, so the threat of a government shut-down has been averted until after the elections. The agriculture appropriations bill, being considered in a minibus containing three other bills – Financial Services, Interior, and Transportation-HUD – is unfortunately among the unfinished spending bills.

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 remaining spending bills and trying to finalize the farm bill until after Thanksgiving. Farm groups 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 that would mean starting the farm bill process over again with a new Congress and potentially new members and leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees.

John Gordley is president of Gordley Associates and executive director of the U.S. Canola Association. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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