Farm bill expiration not a concern

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The 2002 Farm Bill expires Sept. 30. The Senate may not even have its bill approved by that point and then both chambers will need to settle their differences. Should you be concerned since chances seem slim a new bill will be enacted by then? The answer is no. And it definitely isn't the first time Congress has been tardy on its homework.

A new report from the Congressional Research Service outlines what may occur in the likely scenario

Commodity provisions of the 2002 Farm Bill apply to crops harvested in 2007, and farmers entitled to payments will receive them even after September 30. With past history as the example, it is unlikely that expired authority to appropriate funds for discretionary programs will constrain the congressional appropriations process.

This isn't the first time Congress missed approving its farm bill by Sept. 30. Looking back, the 1981 and 1985 farm bills were enacted in late December, and the 1990 farm bill was enacted in late November. Enactment of the anticipated 1995 farm bill in April 1996 is the most extreme case of belated action. The 1990 farm bill expired in 1995, but the subsequent replacement legislation was not signed into law until April 4, 1996, yet payments were made on the 1995 crops and farmers went ahead with planting operations for their 1996 crops.

Winter wheat growers have the most at stake with no new law on the books. Most subsidized crops harvest late in the calendar year. Lack of new commodity support legislation before harvest in 2008 does little harm other than to leave farmers uncertain about the size of payments they might receive. One exception might be some farmers' ability to acquire production credit if there is great uncertainty about future programs. If Congress deems a temporary extension necessary for the commodity support programs beyond the 2007 crop year, that action likely could wait until close to harvest 2008.

If Congress takes no action on commodity support before the beginning of the 2008 harvest, then the non-expiring provisions of primarily the Agriculture Adjustment Act of 1938 and the Agriculture Act of 1949 take effect. Provisions of these permanent laws are temporarily superseded by each farm bill. So, absent any amendments before the 2008 harvest, the permanent authority will apply. But with the vast differences in provisions of the permanent law and current policy, it is unlikely Congress will allow the permanent law to take effect.

The President wants a bill on his desk by the end of the year. Senate Ag Committee Chairman Tom Harkin has said November is feasible for final completion. Senate is on recess until September, but plans to tackle its version upon return.

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