Farm Bill extension offers short-term stability

However, lawmakers are still far apart on a full renewal.

By Michael MarksNovember 21, 2023 1:55 pm, ,

Generally, Congress passes a new version of the Farm Bill every five years. It includes more than $500 billion for programs including crop insurance and conservation measures, as well as food and nutrition assistance for folks in need.

Lawmakers had debated this year’s version of the bill for more than 18 months. But in the end, they decided on a one-year extension of the status quo, which was included in the budget deal to avert a partial government shutdown last week.

Philip Brasher, executive editor of Agri-Pulse, spoke to Texas Standard about some of the key sticking points in the debate over the bill. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: How common is it for the farm bill to get a one year extension like this?

Philip Brasher: It’s not all that unusual for it to get extensions. It didn’t last time in 2018, but it did in the bill that eventually became the 2014 farm law and the one before that as well. So extensions are not that rare.

I see. Well, so what kept Congress from passing a full reauthorization?

Well, basically, they had not made much progress. They have not even started writing a bill. There is a lack of agreement, particularly on the farm provisions and what to do.

So a number of farmers, including cotton growers in Texas, are looking for increased income supports. There is not agreement on how to do that or how to pay for it.

You’re telling me that there’s not an ag bill for lawmakers to consider yet?

No, they have not started. They’ve got to resolve these big issues. And, as you all are probably very well aware, the House is really been tied up in particular on trying to reach agreement on funding the government.

Until some of that gets resolved, they can’t really do much else.

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Well, what does that mean for farmers and ranchers in Texas? I mean, are they just sort of in limbo? How do you plan a business around a lack of information or a sense of where Congress wants to go?

Well, that’s largely been taken care of with this one year extension that keeps the programs in place for this next growing season. There’s really no change. In fact, they actually get some higher income supports for some commodities – many of the commodities actually, because of the way that the bill works. So they’re taken care of through 2024.

This effectively gives Congress to the end of next year to try to reach agreement on a new bill. It’s quite possible it gets punted once again into the next Congress. But they do have everything as status quo for the next year.

When you say there’s an increase in supports, what are you talking about there?

Well, there is a provision that was put into the 2018 farm bill to increase the price support if there was a significant increase in market prices that actually happened in the last few years. And that means those support levels are going to be a little higher.

One of these programs, for example, triggers payments when market prices fall below a certain level. And that level is being raised somewhat because of the 2018 farm bill coming into this next year.

What seemed to be the sticking points? Why is there disagreement sort of writ large if you pull back that sort of, you know, 30,000 foot view, if you will?

Well, it’s a regional difference in one sense between commodities because commodities are supported at different rates. So you have the potential for regional battles, particularly between the Midwest and South. So there’s some policy differences there.

The bigger issue, though – we can always solve a lot of those things if you got enough money. They just don’t have the money. And they’re not sure where they’re going to get it. Some of the Republicans would like to take the money out of nutrition programs. But as you can imagine, that has a lot of opposition from Democrats and from President Biden as well.

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Does anything change on that front when it comes to those nutrition assistance programs with this stopgap measure?

No, it doesn’t. And the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which a lot of people still know as food stamps, that doesn’t even really need a farm bill extension. Congress automatically extends that every year. So there’s no change there at all.

The deadline to pass a new farm bill is now the end of 2024. Think that’s going to happen? 

Boy, that’s a good question. And they’ve got to make some progress in the first half of this year because you quickly get into the Republican National Convention in July. Congress is not in session very much until the election. So they’ve really got to make a lot of progress, even to pass a bill after the election.

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