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2018 Farm Bill Update:

Because our dysfunctional Congress did not pass or extend the Farm Bill by the Sept 30th deadline, the 2014 bill has expired. Most programs will cease to operate sooner or later but the details of each program’s termination depends on how they are funded:

  • The two programs that make up nearly 90% of all farm bill spending – SNAP (food stamps) and Crop Insurance – will not expire because they have permanent budget authorization funded through the separate appropriations process.
  • Most of the core programs with mandatory funding in the 2014 Farm Bill are funded through all of 2018 but without a new farm bill or an extension of the current one many of those programs would cease to operate on December 31st.
  • the discretionary programs without mandatory funding (the so-called orphaned programs) lose their authority to operate­ and terminate immediately unless there’s an extension, a new farm bill is passed or supplemental funding is found via USDA or Congress. These include the expiration of most of our supportive organic and sustainable ag programs. Expiring baseline means conferees will need to find $2.85 billion from farm bill programs to reauthorize those programs important to our members including organic certification cost-share, organic research and extension, collection of organic data, beginning farm programs and necessary updates for National Organic Program (NOP).
  • If the Farm Bill is not passed or extended in 2018 the Commodity title would automatically revert to the original 1938 and 1949 permanent authorization levels when many of the commodities (including soybeans, oilseeds, peanuts, and wool) were not covered and therefore would not receive funding. And because the Dairy Product Price Support Program’s reversion to permanent law would require USDA to buy manufactured dairy products under 1930’s parity pricing formulas at today’s (very expensive) prices these fall back provisions provide a major incentive for Congress to vote for an extension or come up with a new farm bill.

Lame Duck session action expected

The Republican strategy is to ignore an extension and let the orphan programs expire – and take up the 2018 Farm Bill negotiations to authorize future program funding in mid-November, after the elections, during the “lame duck” session when the current Members are still in power (even if a “Blue Wave” of Democrats has been voted into office – starting in 2019).

Meanwhile, there does not seem to be a way forward to come up with the $2.85 billion in supplemental funds from current farm bill programs to reauthorize the 40 orphaned programs that do not have baseline funding – a situation similar to the 2012 farm Bill, which was finally passed in 2014.

With the House on recess until after the Nov 6th Elections and the Senate expected to leave for campaigning soon the Chairs and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Ag committees and staff are continuing negotiations to get the Farm Bill done before the end of the year. They claim to be close on to agreement on the energy, credit and trade sections of the bill. Great differences remain on farm subsidies and SNAP, as well as other parts of the massive farm bill, which ranges from international food aid to ag research and rural economic development.

>>>Current Strategy (from NSAC)

“With prospects for a short-term extension of the 2014 Farm Bill gone and Congress unlikely to return to Washington, D.C. before the November elections, the focus of advocates must now shift to trying to help pass a good, bipartisan 2018 Farm Bill later this year. To minimize the negative impacts of letting the 2014 Farm Bill expire without an extension and to get the programs farmers, researchers and consumers rely on up and running in the new year, we must keep the pressure on Congress to finalize a bill ASAP – but only if it is a good bill, one based largely on the bipartisan bill passed by the Senate with the most votes for a farm bill in history. Indeed, even a farm bill extension, while depressing, would still be better than adopting a bad bill. Now is the time to rally around adopting a new bill, this year; one that adopts the non-ideological and bipartisan path put forward by the Senate.”

But meantime the House and Senate versions are still not reconciled by the conference committee. Here’s the high (and low) points:

House: Along with major cuts to most organic and soil conservation programs key features also include onerous and expensive SNAP (food stamps) reform; increasing subsidy payments to farmers via making extended family members eligible and unnecessary statutory NOSB “reforms”.

Senate: The Senate bill was a bi-partisan approach from the beginning with many positive features for organic and sustainable agriculture. It has no new SNAP requirements and somewhat reduces farm subsidies. Wins for organic and sustainable agriculture include;

  • Provisions and support for organic trade enforcement
  • a big increase in funding for Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI)– and like the House bill it adds “soil health” as a priority
  • National Organic Certification Cost Share Program is fully funded, with $11.5 million annually in mandatory funding. Cost Share was zeroed out in the House bill.
  • Organic Data Initiative – like the House, includes $5 million in one-time mandatory funding
  • Conservation Program: makes a specific allocation for organic within EQIP but doesn’t fix the lower payment limit discrepancy. Overall it cuts needed funds out of CSP and EQIP to support other programs in the Title.
  • Included is a provision to improve soil health, in a way that helps agriculture and addresses climate change that would establish a pilot project managed by USDA to promote the use of advanced farming practices to capture carbon in soil to improve soil health and crop resilience while lowering the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.
  • Combines the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and theOutreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program to create the new Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach Program (FOTOP) with a permanent baseline funding of $50 million a year. The failed House bill supported FOTOP but did not increase funding and did not establish permanent baseline funding.