The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will need at least 9 months to implement the 2013 Farm Bill that Congress continues debating. This timeline spans from the day The President signs the bill into law to the initial producer sign-up for programs.
Impact Government Wide
USDA maintains an internal structure that ensures program implementation is coordinated in a timely manner. The scope of the coordination is not just department-wide, but government-wide. Each requirement under the farm bill is tracked using a detailed system for all farm bill actions so that USDA leadership can quickly assess the status in the regulatory process.
All the Way Down to the Local Level
USDA also relies on decisions that occur at the local level to be successful in the delivery of programs. Those decisions are generated through partnerships and collaborative relationships with producers, county and State employees, agribusiness, universities and third party providers.
Even with their internal structure and collaborative abilities already in place some of the changes in the farm bill being proposed will require considerable time to vet in the regulatory process. Some of the major changes include: new reference prices for commodities, payment limitations and attributions, dairy supply management and more emphasis on crop insurance that will now be linked to conservation compliance.
USDA Employees Need to be Trained in Changes
The other timely component is training of USDA’s employees. USDA maintains nearly 100,000 employees that administer $144 billion in services provided from over 300 programs administered by 33 separate agencies and offices relating to food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development and nutrition policies.
- USDA Employees are located in all 50 States, U.S. territories, and in many foreign countries.
- Training must be coordinated and conducted among respective division and program managers.
- While USDA has developed a web-based training system known as AgLearn that can help enhance employee general understanding of programs, it may not prove as effective as instructor-led training for more intricate details on some of the new programs and changes to existing programs in the farm bill. For instance, the Farm Service Agency is responsible for implementing major program areas including commodities, conservation, farm credit, dairy and disaster programs through a network of 15,000 federal, state, and county employees. It will be critical that these employees are trained as well as possible because they bear the vital responsibility of explaining intricate program details, including multiple possible elections that could mean thousands of dollars to U.S. farmers participating in programs.
It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over
It remains unclear when the House and Senate will complete debate and adopt a farm bill. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has indicated he may file cloture on the farm bill and set up a vote as early as Thursday, June 6. Absent an amendment adopted in the Senate providing means testing for crop insurance, the Senate Committee-adopted bill has virtually remained intact.
That will not likely be the case for the House Committee- adopted farm bill that is expected to be on the House floor the week of June 17. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has promised “robust debate and an open amendment process” when the House takes up the farm bill on the floor. At this time it is hard to imagine that the House Committee-adopted farm bill will remain as-is through the House floor debate.
House vs. Senate Versions
What’s more unclear is what will transpire if the farm bill reaches a U.S. Senate/House conference committee to work out major differences that already exist in the two bills.
- Those differences are currently enormous, including a gap of $16 billion in SNAP program cuts, reference prices for commodities and trade implications.
- Moreover, it could take several weeks to complete a conference report amidst other contentious debates on issue like increasing the U.S. debt ceiling that could impact negotiations.
- In addition, there is consideration being given in the Senate to linking other contentious issues like student loan rates to the farm bill that could significantly impact the timeline in which a farm bill is finally adopted. If history teaches a lesson, recall in 2008 during the farm bill debate it was nearly three months between the time the U.S. Senate appointed their conferees to the conference committee (mid-February) and the farm bill being sent to The President (on May 20, who vetoed the bill).
If it takes USDA 9 months to implement the farm bill currently being debated that does not give Congress much time to pass it. In the U.S., corn farmers begin planting in mid-April and using this crop alone suggests Congress needs to send the farm bill to The President for his signature by mid-July. That is not going happen. Unfortunately it is looking like U.S. farmers will be going into the 2014 crop year with continuing uncertainty about what the rules of the game will be.
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