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News & Media: Staff Columns

The farm bill crystal ball

Thursday, January 11, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: John Holevoet, director of government affairs
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It is hard to predict whether the 2018 farm bill will actually be legislation enacted in 2018. Historic trends do not provide a lot of confidence it will get done on time. However, leaders in both the House and Senate Agriculture committees have shown a strong desire to get the bill done in a timely manner.

So far, the legislative work has taken place behind the scenes. Language for certain titles has been drafted and more is being written. Still, the most contentious parts of the bill are likely to be worked out later after the horse trading of major legislation is well underway.

The most common debates that have dominated previous farm bills will be back. There is likely to be a fight over whether the nutrition title should be part of the bill. As in the past, it makes good sense for agriculture to lobby to keep the bill unified. Without the nutrition title, the bill would not receive the support it needs from urban and suburban legislators. 

The central farm bill fight will be about money. External factors will no doubt play a role in the discussion about what to fund and how to make that happen during lean budgetary times.

At the time of this writing, Congress is working on a funding deal to avoid a government shutdown. The deadline for their work is Jan. 19. North Dakota Senator John Hoeven, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, has been working to include funding for both cotton and dairy provisions in any stopgap funding bill.

The current farm bill has failed to do much for these two commodities. The failure of the Title I programs has left cotton and dairy with low or non-existent funding baselines. Senator Hoeven is hoping to change that in the funding bill, which would give those commodities more resources and flexibility going into the farm bill debate. 

The new tax bill signed by President Trump will likely also have an impact on the debate. Regardless of how the tax changes affect the budget deficit (and there are differing opinions), it will likely increase pressure to cut budgets. Fear of looming deficits may make legislators less likely to spend the money in the farm bill. Times of fiscal belt-tightening have not been friendly to farm bills.

Dairy’s baseline is zero because of the failure of the Margin Protection Program (MPP). The question remains as to what to do about this program. Dairy farmers and organizations are not in agreement over the path forward. Based on the current budget situation, a major investment would be a very hard sell.

Edge has approached the future of the program pragmatically. We have shared with lawmakers and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue our view that the program is not worth saving at a significant cost. MPP has been such a failure that it will be difficult to rebuild farmer confidence in the program regardless of any changes.

Consistent with Edge’s trade-focused policy, our co-op sees more value in funding the farm bill and other programs that would promote trade and improve market access. Edge will continue to advocate for this position.

It is not that dairy farmers could not benefit from a more robust safety net. But, Edge is skeptical that any version of MPP will provide that safety net. Instead, it seems far more likely the program will squander limited resources that could be better used elsewhere.

If you have comments on the farm bill and what you feel is important, please contact me at jholevoet@widba.com or (608) 358-3941.


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