December 29, 2017
A timeline on passage of the next farm bill remains somewhat up in the air. According to House Agriculture Committee chairman Michael Conaway (R., Texas) the House is done with the majority of its work on the bill, after 100-plus hearings.
“We’re ready to go,” Conaway said during an American Dairy Coalition call he participated in during mid-December. He said he’s meeting with Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) to get a better sense of where the timeline currently stands.
However, reports from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) suggest that Roberts is “months” behind schedule on getting a farm bill through the Senate side in time for passage in 2018.
There’s an open window for passing a farm bill in early 2018, University of Missouri policy analyst Scott Brown said, but potential for passage becomes tougher by late spring.
Action depends on Congress quickly agreeing to pass a farm bill that looks much like what exists already.
Farmers are mostly pleased with the current legislation, Brown told the university's Crop Management Conference, but every commodity group has ideas for tweaks to their parts of the farm bill.
Insurance to cover disaster losses has gained favor with farmers. However, dairy farmers don’t care for the dairy margin protection plan that was added to the last farm bill.
If the House or Senate agriculture committees allow talks for dairy changes, other groups will want changes as well. “Proposed changes likely will cost more, not less,” Brown noted.
In writing a farm bill, spending will be important. With concerns about the federal deficit, cutting costs will drive most decisions. If debate opens over spending priorities, that will slow the bill's potential passage to a standstill.
Farm groups must watch what’s in the appropriations bill that keeps being pushed back. The budget will decide what happens in many areas.
“What happens in dairy support may be affected more by budget than by farm bill,” Brown said.
The current farm bill expires in September 2018. When it comes to writing a new farm bill, there’s a common belief that it happens every five years. “Not so fast,” Brown said. “Few farm bills are written in exactly five years.”
Legislators often stick with what exists, and that could happen with the present farm bill. “Overall, there’s support for what we have,” Brown said.
Passage of the last farm bill dragged on for four years. “From 2011 to 2014, the ag committees were exhausted updating their legislation annually before one finally passed,” Brown said. “It took a lot of baling wire to tie together provisions that gathered votes needed to pass a bill.”
The House and Senate agriculture committee have held many hearings, Brown said. That increases the chance of something happening quickly, but if it's delayed until after spring, then other issues will take priority.
A midterm election year in 2018 will slow all action. However, legislators will look for bills they can agree on so they can show their constituents what they have done.
The window for a farm bill remains open.
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