Everyone knows when it’s a farm bill year.
The news cycle is full of deadlines, issues and policy. But this year, there’s nothing but crickets chirping. One real question stands. Why is the farm bill making so little noise?
Trade. This one word has become one of the most impactful issues facing the U.S. agricultural economy today.
“Trade issues have definitely overshadowed the farm bill,” said Scott Gerlt. “People have been overall concerned more about trade than about the farm bill.”
Gerlt is a senior research associate with the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute. He first researched the farm bill in 2009, and he said 2018’s bill is creating less noise than any he has seen.
“It definitely seems like the farm bill has taken a back burner,” said Jared Meyers. “Issues like trade have just overshadowed it.”
Meyers is a senior in agribusiness management at the University of Missouri. He has seen policies in action through classwork and internships, and as a consumer.
But that doesn’t mean that the policy on this farm bill will have a limited impact. Congress is discussing making changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It has quickly made its way to be the biggest issue in the farm bill.
“You’ll hear different reports about what’s really the major sticking point. I’d say that’s probably the number one,” Gerlt said.
SNAP has divided the houses of Congress*. The House of Representatives has proposed a change that would create strict work laws, in most cases 20 or more hours per week, in order to receive the benefits of SNAP. The House has also placed major consequences on failure to meet the requirement. The Senate is refusing to pass that portion of the policy.
Title One is another big issue that could see changes in the 2018 bill. Title One consists of the Crop Commodity Program Provisions. Programs such as the Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage will be discussed. At FAPRI, Gerlt works with the agriculture committee staff, primarily with Title One. He does analysis behind the scenes that goes into making informed choices with how the agriculture committee creates the bill.
Other farm bill issues include dairy, technology, conservation spending, and taxes.
Even with the limited publicity, an issue still has been seen by many. The 2014 farm bill has expired as of September 2018. Provisions for some programs exist, but others have lost funding.
Without an extension of the 2014 bill or a new bill, policy returns to that of the 1940s. The farm bills that are passed temporarily rewrite permanent policy. The policy of that time, however, does not equate with the technology and efficiency of today’s agriculture. However, if history is any precedent, the process will likely go on without any issues.
“I’ve never seen a major crisis yet from this sort of thing,” Gerlt said. “They’ll either pass an extension or pass a new farm bill. Really, there isn’t a big threat until the end of the year.”
As the year concludes, Gerlt expects that Congress will do something to ensure that 1940s policy is not reinstated.
Even though it addresses issues with SNAP, agriculture, and natural resources, the publicity surrounding this year’s bill has remained low. Trade is a factor, but this farm bill is also different than others.
“This farm bill is more of an evolutionary farm bill instead of a revolutionary one,” Gerlt said. “We’re looking at making tweaks to the existing programs.”
The evolutionary tendency of the issues this year has put the bill on the backburner for the time being. It has given way to other issues that seem to be more pressing, like trade.
Trade issues, including the tariffs with China, renegotiation of NAFTA, and the removal of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, have caught the attention of both the public and politicians.
NAFTA has been renegotiated into a different agreement known as USCMA.
Trade with China has frozen, with tariffs causing little to no goods to be distributed to China. Agriculture, in particular, needs to find a new market. Markets could open up in Britain, Cuba, South Korea, Japan and the European Union.
Whether they pass an extension or a new bill, Congress has to act soon. For now, there’s still just crickets.
“Politics and the public are just very focused on other issues,” Meyers said.
*Editor’s note: House and Senate lawmakers agreed to a compromise package, Nov. 29, according to a story in the Washington Post, published Nov. 29.