Farm groups called for Congress on Thursday to overcome a months-long impasse and enact a new farm bill early next year. President Biden was expected to sign legislation that extends current farm law until next Sept. 30 but the farm groups want to keep the pressure on for prompt action.
The extension was included in a short-term government funding bill and will avert the so-called dairy cliff on Jan. 1, when the government-guaranteed price for fresh milk would more than double under a 1949 agricultural statute, with ripple effects possible at the grocery store. The 1949 permanent law comes into effect when a farm bill lapses.
“While an extension is necessary, they’re running out of time to write a new bill,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “We need a new farm bill in early 2024.”
Rob Larew, president of the National Farmers Union, said the bipartisan momentum for extension of the 2018 farm bill should be harnessed “toward getting a new farm bill done in a timely fashion.”
The “four corners” of farm bill negotiations, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture committees, said at the start of the week that the extension would provide certainty to farmers in the near term about USDA commodity supports. “This extension is in no way a substitute or passing a five-year farm bill and we remained committed to working together to get it done next year.”
“Putting the farm bill on autopilot is no substitute for making a real plan to invest in the future of rural America,” said former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, founder of the One Country Project. Heitkamp said the farm bill should “reinvigorate the entire rural economy and meaningfully improve the health and food security of rural communities.”
Farm bill discussions have bogged down over proposals for larger spending on crop subsidies, the goal of farm groups, and suggestions to offset the cost by raiding $29 billion earmarked for climate mitigation in the 2022 climate, healthcare, and tax law. Looming beyond that are the hopes of House conservatives to slash SNAP spending.
Senate Agriculture chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, a staunch defender of SNAP and conservation, told reporters early this week that motivation was absent to agree on terms of new farm bill.
Groups ranging from the National Cotton Council, an umbrella organization for the cotton industry, to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, speaking for small farmers, urged passage of the farm bill in early 2024. The Cotton Council said the bill should enhance the safety net for cotton growers “while addressing the needs of all segments of the supply chain.” NSAC called for a farm bill that “levels the playing field, invests in a climate-resilient future, and advances racial equity.”
Groups representing organic agriculture expressed appreciation that the farm bill extension maintained funding for organic research and enforcement of the National Organic Program.
The Senate passed the government funding bill, 87-11, on Wednesday night. The House passed the bill on Tuesday on a 336-95 roll call.