Farm Bill Update:  Farm Bill Conference Tension Escalates

Farm Bill Update:  Farm Bill Conference Tension Escalates

Monday, September 17, 2018

Mark Rokala, Policy Director

Before a rare evening meeting of the farm bill negotiators last week, lead Senate Republican, Ag Chairman Roberts (KS), said negotiators are running out of time to complete a farm bill by September 30, 2018 when current farm programs expire.  Senate leaders were hoping to be able to come to an agreement on spending numbers for each title of the farm bill last week.

Discussions related to conservatives’ work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP remain a huge road block.

On Friday, President Trump’s tweet accused Senate Ranking Member Stabenow (D-MI) and Democrats of being the problem for not agreeing to the House’s work requirements for SNAP.  However, Agriculture Chair  Senator Roberts has said numerous times that he would not be able to get to 60 votes to prevent a filibuster of the conference report if the work requirement is included.  This continues to be the road block of the Farm Bill.

The top four negotiators continue to say they want a bill before the end of the month. Senators are hoping that the two lead House negotiators, Chairman Conaway (R-TX) and Ranking Member Peterson (D-MN) will be staying in town this week to continue negotiations.  The House is scheduled to be in recess this week.

At the opening meeting of the farm bill conference the first week of September almost all 56 members expressed their desire to complete their work in time to send the bill to the President for signature  before the current farm bill expires (deadline September 30).

While much of the farm policy merging should be painless, a couple of major policy changes have the potential to derail the process. In addition to the work requirements, House of Representatives eliminated the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) to pay for other priorities.  The Senate farm bill continues the program.

The upcoming deadline is crucial because 39 currently authorized farm and food programs will lose their baseline funding  on October 1, 2018 if they are not re-authorized. Six programs important to the organic industry will lose baseline funding and be put at a standstill including Organic Certification Cost-Share, Organic Research (OREI), organic data collection (ODI), National Organic Program upgrades, NRCS EQIP,  and Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP).

These six programs important to organic farmers are included in a group of programs that received mandatory funding in the 2014 farm bill but do not have a baseline beyond the end of that five-year farm bill. These are referred to as “farm bill programs without a baseline” and do not have assured future funding.

In addition to the organic programs needing funding reauthorization in the 2018 farm bill, the new bill language for Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act is necessary right now to protect American family farmers from fraudulent organic imports.  If the farm bill is not completed, organic farmers will miss out on the needed funding and authorization measures this bill gives the National Organic Program to tighten up its enforcement to protect our domestic organic brand.

In our letter to conferees explaining our conference position, Organic Farmers Association pointed out the baseline issue and encouraged conferees to complete their work by the end of the month.  We continue to work with other organic organizations to encourage Congress to work on behalf of America’s family farmers and bring the farm bill to the finish line. We encourage Congress to do the same.