Lawmakers have returned back to work following a holiday break, but the ag industry is still wondering what's next for the farm bill.
Put on hold just ahead of break, the farm bill remains on a long list of issues that Congress must iron out, some with tighter timelines than others.
Now left to deal with a $1 trillion omnibus spending package, which must be ironed out before Jan. 15 to avoid another government shutdown, some might suggest that the ag industry is likely to endure another fruitless week.
However, several reports indicate that a formal conference committee meeting on the farm bill will come late in the week, possibly Thursday. At the meeting, lawmakers will discuss additional amendments to the bill, likely continuing to hash out differences on the most contentious issues.
Some of the key issues at hand have been, not surprisingly, nutrition programs and crop insurance. Lawmakers, however, have reported separately that smaller country of origin labeling and catfish inspection issues are likely to be addressed at the forthcoming meeting.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition reports that some other issues rumored to be unsolved include commodity payment limitation reforms, sodsaver provisions, the dairy program, the organic certification cost-share program, Food for Peace reforms, USDA enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act, and finally, a House provision that NSAC says would discriminate against agricultural researchers who don't work for land grant universities in the awarding of government research grants.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said Friday that the agency must see action on the bill this month – such as a conference report – or it will enforce 1940s policy that requires the USDA to purchase some commodities at higher prices, pushing up costs for consumers.
Vilsack said, however, that beginning operations to enforce the policy wouldn't be reasonable at this point since legislators have been positive regarding the farm bill's movement.
If farm bill conferees do come up with a report, the next step would be consideration in the Senate and the House.
Legislators will continue to work until the week of Jan. 20, when both sides of the aisle will take a five-day break in conjunction with the Martin Luther King, Jr. remembrance day.