LAST year's fear of the "milk cliff," or the threat of sending milk prices to $8/gal., was the biggest driver in getting the farm bill rolled into the New Year's last-minute government deal.
Since it seems like Congress only acts when a deadline is imminent, last week, Rep. Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) called on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to begin the process of implementing the 1949-era dairy policies that supposedly will take effect once the farm bill expires Sept. 30.
However, as learned last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture needs to take time to develop the framework to implement the permanent law, which goes back to parity pricing and requires the department to put a floor on milk prices at approximately $39 per 100 lb.
Peterson hopes the move will spur affected industry groups — such as the International Dairy Foods Assn. — to pressure House leaders to enact a bill preventing the cost hike before the end of the year.
As for the biggest piece still left out of play — the House nutrition title — it is expected to come to a vote Sept. 18, but Republican leaders are not releasing the text as the Congressional Budget Office scores the bill, which is expected to reduce overall nutrition spending by $40 billion over 10 years.
The House is in session Sept. 17-20 and then takes another week off before returning Sept. 30. Although the farm bill technically expires Sept. 30, we saw last year that there is some flexibility within that date. If the House and Senate can't come together on finding a bill that could pass both chambers, an extension would be needed.
However, Vilsack and top Senate leaders are denouncing the idea of an extension.
"I do not support an extension because it is bad policy that yields no deficit reduction, no reform and does nothing to help American agriculture create jobs. It's time to do the work we were sent here to do and finally finish this farm bill," said Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.).
Congressional leaders are preparing a short-term continuing resolution to be considered by both chambers of Congress. Although the political conversation about the measure is ongoing, it will almost certainly extend spending levels for a few months without major funding changes or policy riders in an effort to gain the necessary votes for passage.
Congress has just two weeks to finalize how it will fund the government after the federal fiscal year expires on Sept. 30. While the timeline for action on appropriations was always tight, even less time has proved to be available with the debate about possible military action in Syria.
Similar to the last funding stopgap measure last March, this one also includes the Farmer Assurance Provision, Sec. 735, which has been coined the "Monsanto Protection Act" by anti-biotechnology activists.
The provision gives the secretary of agriculture the authority to introduce temporary stewardship requirements that allow for the partial deregulation of a biotech product while legal challenges are pending on a prior science-based determination by USDA that the product is safe for cultivation.
More than 100 groups wrote Senate leaders asking for the rider to be removed. Vilsack has said the rider isn't necessary, since it is only codifying what the agency has already done in past cases.