A timeline on passage of the next farm bill remains somewhat up in the air. According to House Agriculture Committee chairman Michael Conaway (R., Texas) the House is done with the majority of their work on the bill after 100 plus hearings.
“We’re ready to go,” Conaway said during an American Dairy Coalition call he participated in during mid-December. He said he’s meeting with Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., to get a better sense of where he currently stands on a timeline.
However, reports from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, that Roberts is “months” behind schedule on getting a bill through on the Senate side in time for a 2018 passage.
There’s an open window for passing a farm bill in early 2018, said Scott Brown, University of Missouri policy analyst. But potential passage gets tough by late spring.
Getting action depends on Congress quickly agreeing to pass a farm bill much like what exists.
Mostly, farmers are pleased with current legislation, Brown told the MU Crop Management Conference. But every commodity group has ideas for tweaks to their parts of the farm bill.
Insurance to cover disaster losses has gained favor with farmers. However, dairy farmers don’t care for their margin protection plan added to the last farm bill.
If House or Senate ag committees open talks for dairy changes, other groups will want changes as well. “Proposed changes likely will cost more, not less,” Brown said.
In writing a farm bill, spending will be important. With concern about federal deficit, cutting costs will drive most decisions.
If debate opens over spending priorities, that slows passage to a standstill.
Farm groups must watch what’s in the appropriations bill that keeps being pushed back. Budget will decide what happens in many areas.
“What happens in dairy support may be affected more by budget than by farm bill,” Brown said.
The current farm bill expires in September 2018.
When it comes to writing a new farm bill, there’s a common belief it happens every five years.
“Not so fast,” Brown said. “Few farm bills are written in exactly five years.” Legislators stick with what they have. That could happen with the present farm bill.
“Overall, there’s support for what we have,” Brown said.
Passage of the last farm bill dragged on for four years. “From 2011 to 2014 the ag committees were exhausted updating their legislation annually before one finally passed,” Brown said.
“It took a lot of baling wire to tie together provisions that gathered votes needed to pass a bill.”
The House and Senate ag committee have held many hearings, Brown said. That increases the chance of something happening quickly, but if delayed until after spring other issues take priority.
A mid-term election year ahead slows all action.
However, legislators will look for bills they can agree on so they can show what they have done.
The window for a farm bill remains open.