“We can’t do much about it. We just have to sit and wait for it to happen.” That expression of frustration about the Farm Bill was offered Wednesday by a farmer attending a Cornbelt conference about Farmland Markets. While many farm organization lobbyists hope they have some impact on the outcome, the typical farmer thinks whatever will happen is going to happen and there is not much that can be done to change. Currently, the power brokers wear red and blue, come from the House and Senate, and have been waiting for a meeting of the Conference Committee to be convened. The path is uncertain, and no one really knows how and when it will come to an end.
The Farm Bill has been in negotiation for the past three years. While it has reached the conference committee stage, there is no guarantee when an agreement will be reached and whether that agreement will be approved by both houses of Congress.
A look inside the effort is offered by Ohio State University ag economist Carl Zulauf and University of Illinois policy specialist Jonathan Coppess, until recently, the chief Senate ag committee staff member. They report that Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow and House Ag Committee Chair Frank Lucas lead strong majorities and have significant support for their policy positions. And they add, “Without a comprehensive agreement and significant compromise across key differences, or unexpected shifts in votes and positions of at least two conferees in either delegation, the conference committee could easily deadlock, producing no final bill.”
Zulauf and Coppess map out three potential outcomes that include most of the possibilities:
(1) The conference committee reaches an agreement that is enacted into law.
(2) The conference committee does not reach agreement and the current 2008 farm bill is extended for another year. A two-year extension could occur if Congress wants to avoid a farm bill debate in a Congressional election year. To help meet federal deficit reduction goals, an extension will likely include a reduction in direct payments at least equal to and probably larger than the current 8.5 percent cut under sequestration.
(3) The Conference Committee does not reach agreement and permanent law is repealed, ending farm commodity support programs. The farm safety net becomes the insurance program, meaning multiple-year losses would not be covered by the farm safety net.
Zulauf and Coppess say options 1 and 2 could both happen, but they have about the same chance of happening. Option three would not be good, but has a slim chance of passage. Options 2 and 3 would not typically be scenarios resulting in a Farm Bill but most of the politics surrounding the Farm Bill is keyed upon cutting spending. And they say if the conference committee meeting on the budget is quickly able to allocate funding for agriculture that may dictate when it included and not included in the Farm Bill. Zulauf and Coppess say another possibility would be elimination of the crop safety net programs. They report that while the popular belief is the disagreement over food stamps (SNAP), but they are quick to say the agreement over the Farm Safety net may be a major point of contention. They think there is a distinct possibility of the Budget committee striking first and telling the agriculture committee conference how much money they could spend.
The Farm Bill conference committee has had one meeting with little accomplished. They are facing only 16 more legislative days before the end of the year, and a repeat of the dairy cliff that will require farmers be paid parity prices for their milk. While there are some possibilities for an outcome, they are not representative of typical Farm Bill deliberations.