Ag Policy Blog

Farm Bill Shelved Until After Mid-Terms

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent

And Chris Clayton

DTN Ag Policy Editor

Jamming to the Eagles "Already Gone," the farm bill was put on the shelf Friday until after the mid-term election. After votes on Friday, the House of Representatives has gone out of session until after the November 6 election.

The current farm bill expires on Sept. 30.

The House was scheduled to be in session parts of two weeks in October, but Republican members fearful of their election prospects convinced the House leadership to let them go home to campaign.

The House’s absence eliminates any possibility that Congress will finish the conference report on the farm bill and vote on it before the election.

The 2014 farm bill expires Sunday. Major farm and nutrition programs will continue and crop insurance is permanently authorized under separate legislation.

But the expiration leaves 39 farm programs unauthorized and inactive. That includes the Foreign Market Development program used to promote sales of U.S. commodities overseas.

Politico reported that Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said this week that the trade aid program established by the Trump administration could be used for that program until a new farm bill is passed, but USDA has said it will not award money until January and those funds are expected to be for programs, not staffing and office costs.

The House is scheduled to return on November 13.

The National Association of Wheat Growers and U.S. Wheat Associates each issued statements expressing concern about the inability of Congress to complete a bill.

"Expiration of the current farm bill will leave farmers with uncertainty moving forward at a time when net farm income is expected to be down 13 percent this year compared to last year. NAWG calls on conferees to finish negotiations as quickly as possible on a farm bill that provides a strong safety net for growers.

“Farmers are facing historically low prices and a struggling rural economy. The farm bill provides growers access to crucial programs that support their operations,” said NAWG CEO Chandler Goule. “Winter wheat farmers across the country have already begun seeding next year’s crop, and they are having to do so without knowing whether a safety net will be in place or what sort of conservation programs that may be available."

NAWG notes USDA will not hold any new signups for the Conservation Reserve Program or provide other technical assistance to growers.

U.S. Wheat Associates noted the Foreign Market Development Program will be among the "orphan" programs without funding until a new farm bill is passed. FMD spends about $34.5 million a year and U.S. Wheat Associates is one of 23 groups that received funding last year. U.S. Wheat Associates used the funds to cover salaries of 40 non-American employees and expenses in 14 overseas offices. The group will now need to pull from reserves to fund those staff and offices, but U.S. Wheat Associates stated that is not sustainable.

"This comes at a particularly bad time as wheat export markets have been hard hit by the effects of the tariff retaliation that has come from both China and Mexico this year,” said Vince Peterson, president of U.S. Wheat Associates. “USDA calculated tariff losses to the wheat industry at close to $250 million and that meter is running. Without our cornerstone market development funding program, our ability to limit those losses, prevent further erosion in our reputation and get our exports back on track is severely handicapped."

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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