Has it been a busy couple of weeks or what? With the government continuing to work towards funding resolutions, the 2023 Farm Bill timeline has been up in the air. The current version expired at midnight on Saturday, September 30, but we do have some idea of when we can expect a draft of the new farm bill.
Currently, the government is funded through November 17 and more resolutions will need to be made to avert another potential government shutdown. So, what does this mean? Well, programs through the USDA have been said to be viable until the end of the crop year (December 31).
Chaos in Congress
While we don’t have any worries about specific programs, we are continuing to fight to have more funding in this farm bill. The temporary funding bill passed by Congress on September 30 covers current government spending until mid-November so all should be fine, right? Well, appropriations, Speakership, and the 2023 Farm Bill are huge tasks for Congress that must be addressed.
Here’s what we know about next steps for the 2023 Farm Bill:
- The government has about 30 days to figure out future funding before another government shutdown is imminent.
- We have heard that the Senate and House Agriculture Committees want floor time to be decided on before bills are marked up in Committee. They are planning ahead so that the bill will go through faster when they have that markup ready.
- There are only three weeks of actual Congressional session from November 30 until the winter holiday recess. That is a tight window for any farm bill work to be done.
Therefore, it is extremely likely that we won’t see farm bill text until next year (but not impossible).
Turning Back the Clock in 2024
According to Wes King (Legislative Assistant with Senator Sherod Brown), “Things are not looking the best in terms of getting a farm bill done any time in the near future. More or less, things are okay until the calendar year 2024. That’s when the ramifications of not passing a farm bill really start to come to fruition.” At this point, the USDA will revert to implementation of what’s known as the “permanent farm bill laws.”
These permanent laws are an interesting mechanism that, for the most part, has encouraged Congress to come together to get previous farm bills passed. Created decades ago, the permanent laws are a set of non-expiring provisions from the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 and the Agricultural Act of 1949. As could be imagined, these laws are far from reflecting our modern food system. By requiring support for certain commodities at levels far higher than 2023 market prices, the reversion to permanent laws would be expensive for both the government and consumers. “They’d be really impactful—probably in a mostly negative way,” according to King.
At this stage, many Congresspeople are considering that an extension might be the best path forward. More specifically, a short-term extension could provide necessary funding for programs under the farm bill umbrella, all while keeping pressure on Congress to finalize drafts of the 2023 Farm Bill.
Sticking Points in the Drafting Process: Conservation Funds Under Attack
In addition to the crises in Israel and Palestine and the fervent search for a new Speaker of the House, there are aspects of the farm bill that are currently being contested. While King assured us in a recent call that “large portions of the farm bill are written and mostly figured out,” Title I commodity programs have not yet been finalized. This is because Ranking Member John Boozman (R-AR) and others in Congress are requesting an increase in reference prices for the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program—which has an expected cost of $10-80 billion.
As part of a “safety net” for farmers, reference prices are payments administered by the Farm Service Agency to commodity producers. Reporting a rising cost in production, commodity groups are demanding that reference prices be increased in the new farm bill. With no increase in baseline spending for the farm bill, this money would likely be siphoned from other farm bill programs, specifically Title II Conservation, which includes investments from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
If reference prices were to increase, they would primarily support rice, cotton, and peanut farmers in the South, or less than 0.3 percent of farmers. Unfortunately, this would come at the expense of conservation programs that are already oversubscribed and should be expanded, rather than diminished, through the 2023 Farm Bill.
A Critical Time for Action
The silver lining of a delay in farm bill reauthorization is that we have more time to shape the farm bill we want to see. Critically, it provides time to put pressure on our lawmakers to say “no” to raising reference prices for a very small group of farmers at the expense of programs that serve the diversity and resilience of American agriculture. We are here to help!
As time goes on, we will do our best to keep folx up to date on current happenings and advocacy opportunities. Expect to see ways to call or email your members of Congress about preserving conservation funding soon! Reach out to email@example.com with any questions and be sure to follow our social media page for regular updates.