Starting in the 1930’s, roughly every 5 years the U.S. Congress has adopted a Farm Bill. The Farm Bill contains production agriculture & food policies under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farm Bill titles include Commodity Programs, Conservation, Trade, Nutrition, Credit, Rural Development, Research & Extension, Forestry, Energy, Horticulture and Crop Insurance.
At stake is about $100 billion annually! Simply put, the Farm Bill touches everyone, every day. Our food, fiber, renewable fuel and energy is derived from the farm or benefits from programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Even with so much at stake, Congress has struggled to timely adopt farm bills since the 1990’s.
- To save budget dollars the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 (P.L. 103-66) reduced and extended many commodity support provisions beyond 1995. Thus the 1995 Farm Bill wasn’t signed into law until April 1996.
- What should have been a 2007 Farm Bill was not enacted until June 2008. It required six temporary extensions of most programs in the 2002 Farm Bill.
- The 2008 Farm Bill had to be extended into 2013 and Congress adopted the 2014 Farm Bill in February of that year.
There are a few fundamental reasons for this:
1. Similar to U.S. demographics, Members of Congress today are further removed from the farm than in previous decades,
2. Even among the usually bipartisan House and Senate Agriculture Committees, Congress has become increasingly polarized reflecting the U.S. electorate,
3. Farm policy is complex, as it includes public policies across varying sectors of the U.S. economy impacting agriculture, the environment, international trade and social nutrition programs, and
4. Funds available from the federal budget are shrinking.
Most provisions in The Agricultural Act of 2014 (P.L. 113-79) will expire on September 30, 2018. The Dairy Margin Protection Program expires in December 31, 2018. With farmers under financial pressure from extraordinary low commodity prices, farm organizations across America are gearing up for battle for the upcoming Farm Bill. Without question, the next Farm Bill must turn away from 1930’s commodity price and revenue support policies and embrace forward thinking that harnesses 21st century technologies, meets ever-growing and changing global challenges and demographics, and builds rural communities.
For Easier Transition, New Farm Bill by September 2018
For an easier transition that lessens impacts to farmers and the markets for which they produce, ideally, a new Farm Bill should be adopted before any new crop harvest. The earliest crop harvest in 2019 will occur in mid-to-late May of 2019 when wheat harvest begins in South Texas. Noteworthy, farmers in South Texas will begin planting this crop in the fall of 2018. Dependent upon the complexities of policies adopted in the new Farm Bill the U.S. Department of Agriculture would likely need anywhere from 9-months-to-1-year to implement the provisions of a new Farm Bill. That means if the next Farm Bill were timely adopted, Congress should reauthorize farm bill programs by September 2018.
Countdown to New Farm Bill Debate
Looking at the calendar today, Congress has about two years to complete the next Farm Bill. However, on average Congress schedules about 118 legislative days in each calendar year. The days scheduled are slightly less in even years, or election years, as Congress accommodates U.S. elections. Using this average as a basis starting September 22, 2016, Congress has about 230 scheduled legislative days in which to reauthorize the new Farm Bill for the 2019 crop year.
To facilitate timely and thorough farm policy discussions we have developed a countdown timer to the start of debate on the next Farm Bill which we believe will get underway by mid-Spring in 2017.