by Mary Zaki
No agreement yet as deadline looms.
The "Big Four" agriculture leaders in Congress: Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, and ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., have been meeting/conferring in closed-door sessions over the past two months with the objective of reaching common ground between the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill. A public meeting of the full Farm Bill conference committee has also been held on September 5th. As of today, signs point to lack of agreement between conference committee members with few days remaining before the September 30th deadline.
Disagreement on approach to Negotiating the Farm Bill
Politico's Morning Agriculture reports that, as of Wednesday of this week, there are still issues of how to approach negotiating the Farm Bill. Sen. Pat Roberts would prefer to set budget limits for each Farm Bill title first and then work out title details second. In contrast Rep. Conway would like to set title details first and allocate budget second to allow for greater policy flexibility.
Main Titles of Disagreement
According to Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., in her interview on the Thursday edition of C-SPAN's Washington Journal, the Farm Bill titles causing most issue are nutrition, conservation and commodities (See our Farm Bill Guides for details on the differences between Senate and House versions of the Farm Bill for these specific titles).
Most publically, President Trump has weighed in on Thursday via Twitter by blaming Sen. Stabenow and Democrats for holding up the process due to their refusal to accept stricter work requirements on SNAP (proposed in the House version of the Farm Bill). Sen. Stabenow responded with a tweet of her own that the bipartisan negotiated Senate version of the Farm Bill, that does not include major changes to SNAP work requirements, was passed with 86 votes. According to Politico, Rep. Conway, who is the lone hold out of the "Big Four" for stricter work requirements, indicated that Stabenow has not been compromising from his perspective.
What happens if the Deadline Passes?
The House is on recess next week, but talks may occur if House members Rep. Conway and Rep. Peterson are available. If no progress is made this coming week, then it is likely that the September 30th deadline will not be met. In that case a short/long term extension of the current Farm Bill may pass as a stopgap. However, it is also possible that the Farm Bill expires without an extension bill. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition provides a helpful guide of what would occur in an expiration-without-extension scenario: SNAP should continue as is as long as congress passes a budget or continuing resolution. Crop Insurance should also continue as is as it is authorized outside of the Farm Bill. Commodity Programs will temporarily remain as is until the end of the year. At that point, if no new farm bill or bill extension emerges, commodity programs will revert to permanent Farm Bill laws of 1949 and 1938 (i.e., prices will be higher). All conservation programs other than EQIP (e.g., CRP, CSP, ACEP) and programs such as the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program and Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program have funding to proceed in Fiscal Year 2019 but lack the authority to do so. Hence, expiration will halt sign-ups and implementation of these programs. 2014 Farm Bill programs that are funded explicitly until September 30, 2018 will not be operational in part or in whole (this is true even if an extension bill is passed that does not explicitly extend their funding). They include:
Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program
Conservation Reserve Program – Transition Incentives Program
Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP)
Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives Program (FINI)
National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCP)
Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI)
Organic Production and Market Data Initiative
Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers
Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP)
Value-Added Producer Grants Program (VAPG)