The current farm bill (Agricultural Act of 2014) expires on Sept. 30, 2018. Legislatively, farm bills tend to be bipartisan and follow the traditional process. Historically, the process has started with field hearings or listening sessions and subcommittee and full committee hearings in Washington, D.C. A little more than a year of lead time is common to complete the bill.

Process

To date, the Senate Agriculture Committee has held two field hearings and full committee hearings covering eight of the 12 titles from the 2014 farm bill. The House Committee on Agriculture has had full committee hearings in Washington, D.C. and numerous subcommittee hearings. The House is also conducting listening sessions this summer.

House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, has stated that he wants to complete the farm bill on time and that he wants to be on the House floor during the last calendar quarter of 2017 or first calendar quarter of 2018. Most likely, he would get floor time in 2018 at the earliest.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has also expressed a desire to complete the farm bill on time. During a recent hearing, Sen. Roberts took advantage of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s attendance and asked him about floor time for the farm bill later this year. “The sooner the better,” Sen. McConnell, R-Ky., replied. 

Uncertainties Impeding Development

The budget is the biggest uncertainty. In its views and estimates letter to the House Budget Committee, the House Committee on Agriculture outlined the current poor economic situation in rural America and noted that the 2014 farm bill cut more than $100 billion in baseline spending, which was $80 billion more than its target based on 10-year totals. The House Committee on Agriculture urged the House Budget Committee to not direct further cuts to agricultural spending and even made the case that it needs resources above current baseline spending. Fixing cotton and dairy problems alone could cost an added $2 billion annually above 2014 farm bill levels.

Congress has not finished its 2018 budget. The House FY 2018 budget passed out of committee in July does include instructions to the Agriculture Committee to cut $10 billion over 10 years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The Senate has not yet taken up the FY 2018 budget, but it’s not likely to include cuts to SNAP.

President Trump’s FY 2018 budget proposal adds uncertainty. It calls for a $240 billion cut (10-year total) to mandatory programs under the jurisdiction of the Agriculture Committees. The 27% proposed cut touches nearly all programs, such as SNAP and those for conservation, commodities, crop insurance, rural development and research, in a farm bill. If the Budget Committees adopt the President’s budget for agriculture, then it would make writing the next farm bill nearly impossible.

Finally, eight of the 10 Senate Democrats on the Senate Agriculture Committee, including ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., are up for re-election in 2018. The majority of them represent states that President Trump carried in 2016. How this plays into completing the next farm bill is uncertain.

Summary

The House and Senate Agriculture Committees have started the traditional hearing process leading up to the next farm bill. Factors outside of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees’ control—the budget and the 2018 midterm election—could complicate timely completion of the 2018 farm bill.