Seven Farm Bill Hurdles

The current farm bill expires in September 2018. So that’s the hard line in the sand to pass a new farm bill or extend the current one. ( Sara Schafer )

The current farm bill expires in September 2018. So that’s the hard line in the sand to pass a new farm bill or extend the current one. 

“The 2018 farm bill could look mostly like 2014 farm bill,” says Pat Westhoff, director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) at the University of Missouri. “A lot of people are reasonably happy with what they have, and it is hard to agree on alternatives.”

Beyond overcoming the political differences in Washington, every component of the farm bill comes with a price tag, as does every proposed change. “There is very little additional money to spend on the farm bill,” says Jim Wiesemeyer, Washington policy analyst for Pro Farmer and Farm Journal. “That’s why everyone is saying the farm bill will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary.”

Westhoff and Wiesemeyer detail several of the key obstacles to passing the next farm bill. 

  1. SNAP: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the single biggest challenge to getting a farm bill done in 2018, Westhoff says. That’s because both sides of the political aisle and the President must agree on a solution. Current proposals include creating stricter work and eligibility requirements. “But the Democrats on the committee say this proposal is not acceptable,” Westhoff says. Because this is such a hot-button issue and requires 60 votes in the Senate, Wiesemeyer predicts, there won’t be substantial changes to the program. 
  2. Dairy: Few milk producers liked the 2014 Dairy Margin Protection Program, Westhoff says. The Bipartisan Budget Act keeps the Dairy Margin Protection Program, but reduces premiums for small producers. It also removes a cap on a livestock insurance program. “This will increase the deficit, but so did many other provisions in that bill,” Westhoff says. The House farm bill will offer additional dairy options, Wiesemeyer adds.
  3. CRP: The 2014 farm bill caps the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) at 24 million acres. “There’s talk of taking it to 29 million acres,” Wiesemeyer says. “To offset that cost, they would offer lower rental payments for maturing and new contracts.”
  4. ARC and PLC: The problem with the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs is both need some changes, Wiesemeyer says. “For PLC, there will be an opportunity for higher reference prices, and for ARC, information will now come from the Risk Management Agency rather than NASS,” he says. “But substantial changes would cost too much money.
  5. Niche Programs: Several programs, such organic agriculture research and extension, beginning farmer and farmers’ market promotion, do not have a baseline after fiscal year 2018, Westhoff says. “Many have strong supporters,” he says. “But extending all of these programs would cost about $3 billion.”
  6. Crop Insurance: Wiesemeyer says the specific crop insurance language in the farm bill is not necessarily a challenge—it’s the amendments that follow. “They are offered by various non-agriculture panel members who want to see significant changes that farmers would not like,” he says. “They are typically voted down, but I still see it as a hurdle.” 
  7. Calendar: With House and Senate elections just a few months away, the farm bill has a narrow window to pass through both chambers and resolve differences, Westhoff says. “Timing is always a problem for Congress,” Wiesemeyer adds. “They need deadline pressures to get anything done.”