The floundering farm bill

By Matt Reese

In terms of (very) long awaited progress toward a finalized new farm bill, there have been a few early summer bright spots.

“After a long impasse, there has finally been some movement to reauthorize the farm bill. The House Committee on Agriculture recently passed the Farm, Food, and National Security Act by a vote of 33-21,” said Brooke Appleton, vice president of public policy at the National Corn Growers Association. “But now, thanks to the hard work of House Agriculture Committee Chairman G.T. Thompson (R-Penn.), as well as committee members from both parties, we have moved into a different stage in the legislative process, though there is still much work to be done.”

Appleton said NCGA is pleased with several amendments, including one from Rep. Max Miller (R-Ohio) on sustainable aviation fuel that was adopted by the committee. There are hopes Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), the ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, will soon outline the Senate Republican farm bill framework for negotiations with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich), Appleton said.

Soon, though, may not be soon enough. Brandon Kern, with the Ohio Soybean Association, expressed a growing concern about the floundering farm bill progress.

“We have a national election going on and there’s this whole process of funding the government which has to happen that always comes up right before the first of October. We’ve got a long road ahead of us with some of the politics and the back and forth. I don’t really think there’s going to be an opportunity to pass something, at least until we get to a lame duck session in November,” Kern said. “The House has passed a pretty good bill. It puts more farm in the farm bill. It allows for new base acre allocation to happen, which I think is really needed. It has improvements in the Title I commodity programs, reference price increases, improvements in the ARC and PLC programs in general and for Midwest commodities. This is the improvement in the farm bill we’re looking for it and we don’t want to lose that momentum.”

Kern also pointed out that there are some significant political differences in the farm bill that remain unsorted, even after 2 years of the farm bill process.

“There are some remaining issues between the two sides here when you’re talking about Nutrition Title and the idea that there’s a reduction in benefits on the SNAP side and pretty significant increases on the farm side — that creates problems from both the right and left. There are plenty of people on the right who are critical of this farm bill right now with the spending increases that we have trying to pass a $1.5 trillion farm bill. At the same time, the left is arguing about the reduction of SNAP benefits,” Kern said. “I don’t know that this political equation honestly changes until after the election. Then the problem is that window is very, very small and the consequences are real if we get to the end of the Congress. If this Congress expires, we have to start all over again. Bills have to be reintroduced. We’d restart the clock and start from scratch at the beginning of next year. We don’t want that. From the agriculture community’s perspective, we need to continue the message that we need a farm bill now.”

Luke Crumley, with Ohio Corn & Wheat, shares the farm bill skepticism.

“While there have been hearings and legislative proposals put forward on the outside and some framework introduced by the majority and minority both in the Senate, the reality is we’re not substantially closer to a farm bill right now and, call me negative if you want, but I’m frustrated,” Crumley said. “They have had a hearing on Chairman Thompson’s proposed language on the House side, and that’s great. They’ve got bipartisan support and it’s moving forward. There are some great things in there. There are some things we are concerned about too like proposals to institute a floor price on corn for PLC under the Commodities Title. But on the Senate side, all we’ve seen is the legislative framework. They don’t have a hearing scheduled as of late June. We’re going to be transitioning here very soon to the general election time frame and we all know what that means — things on Capitol Hill grind to a halt. So, I’m nervous about the farm bill and how little progress has been made, especially when folks like ranking member Boozeman on the Senate side finally said the dreaded e-word: extension. He’s talking about the need to look at doing extension after Sept. 30. That’s not the answer that American farmers deserve. Period. We need a farm bill. We need it right now and political gamesmanship is putting that in jeopardy.”

Yet another farm bill extension would fall short of what U.S. agriculture needs in terms of rapidly changing markets and production factors.

“Legislative measures like an extension keep the current programs as they are, but the current programs fall short in a number of ways. We’ve talked about funding on the Trade Title and how important that is when our growers are facing increased input costs and regulation out of the administration unlike ever before. The answer to mitigate all the negatives is new markets, new opportunities and the current farm bill doesn’t do anything to expand trade opportunities into the future,” Crumley said. “Kicking the can down the road is not good enough. The right answer is to roll up your sleeves and do the work and work across the aisle to get the thing done — it’s just not happening yet.”

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