Capitol Hill logjam, funding shortage shift farm bill target to December

  • by Chuck Abbott, FERN's AG Insider
  • 19-Sep-2023 12:00

December is the new target for passage of the US farm bill.


On 19 September, leaders of the US Senate and House Agriculture committees made it official: December is the new target for passage of the farm bill. The 2018 farm law expires on Sept. 30, but there is little peril until dairy subsidies terminate on Dec. 31, said House Agriculture chairman Glenn Thompson.

“I absolutely think the Senate” will take the lead in proposing and debating the farm bill, said Senate Agriculture chairwoman Debbie Stabenow.

In separate breakfast-time appearances, Thompson and Stabenow said action on the farm bill was delayed by a search for ways to increase reference prices and expand crop insurance, two expensive goals of farm groups. Vilsack and Stabenow opposed raiding the $20 billion in climate mitigation funding that was earmarked for land and water stewardship in the 2022 climate, healthcare, and tax bill.

“One key element is maintaining the funding and resources for climate-smart practices,” said Vilsack. As an example, he pointed to the “remarkable” response by farmers to the $850 million available this year in climate mitigation funding. “We got three-and-a-half times the amount of demand that we have money….It’s very clear that farmers are interested and anxious to use these increased resources to do a better job in terms of allowing them to mitigate and adapt to a changing climate.”

In a news release, the USDA said there was “record interest” in an array of programs, including conservation, that received additional funding from the 2022 climate law.

For now, the top priority for Congress is passage of a short-term government funding bill before the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year, possibly followed by agreement on federal spending levels for the rest of fiscal 2024. The broad-spectrum farm bill, covering topics from crop subsidies and agricultural research to SNAP and rural development, often requires days of debate and will have to wait.

“The functional deadline, for the most part, with this farm bill is December 31st,” said Thompson. “January 1st, we would revert back to the Dust Bowl-era language, and that would not be good for anyone.”

Stabenow said, “I’m leaning toward December. It really is a question of resources and getting a bipartisan vote.”

The government-guaranteed price for fresh milk would more than double on Jan. 1, subsequently raising the retail price of milk, if the country reverts to the permanent agricultural law, dating from 1938 and 1949, the Congressional Research Service recently said. USDA supports for wheat, rice, cotton, and corn also would soar while soybeans and peanuts would lose their place in the farm program.

Reversion to permanent law is often raised as the bogeyman if Congress fails to write a farm bill on time. When asked what USDA was doing to prepare for the expiration of the 2018 law, Vilsack replied, “We’re going to continue to do what we’ve done. But we’re going to get a farm bill.” The 2002 farm bill was the last to be enacted on time. Congress extended the life of the old farm bills while completing the 2008 and 2014 bills. The 2018 farm law was signed on Dec. 20.

Vilsack and Thompson spoke at a “sustainability and food insecurity” forum hosted by Axios. Stabenow spoke three blocks away at the Bipartisan Policy Center.