United States Capitol Building

Farmers plan for 2018, Congress plans for the next five years

While September 2018 will hopefully mark the passage of the next Farm Bill, work has already started on what that legislation will look like.

Grower listening sessions hosted by the House and Senate ag committees started this summer. But to know what the 2018 Farm Bill may hold, you need to look to the past. The last two farm bills had delayed approval, both taking more than two years to gain approval and requiring the extension of the prior bill. The 2014 Farm Bill was passed right as the ag markets began a downhill slide. In the last four years, net farm income has decreased by 49.3 percent. While this trend may be slowing down, ag is far from a major upswing.

So, ag is trending down and Farm Bill passage is a challenge. We know this and so do our elected officials. But that isn’t all.

Look at an electoral map from the 2016 election and you see that the ag production areas of this country showed overwhelming support for a Trump administration. Some may think that this will translate into a smooth Farm Bill passage. However, politics aside, difficulties remain for the 2018 Farm Bill.

  • USDA Appointments: Currently, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue is the only Senate-confirmed presidential appointment. Traditionally there are approximately 17 appointed positions. This means that not only are there 16 open appointments, but also the staff hired to support those individuals once they are in office are not yet in place.
  • Administration Priorities: When you look at the current priorities of Trump administration, agriculture is not topping the list. Tax, health insurance and immigration reform, not to mention the ongoing North Korea crisis and disaster recovery, are all leading the discussion. The challenge is, without a commitment to agriculture up front, you are fighting for focus and attention.
  • Tax Reform/Proposed Budget: The initial budget submitted in May from the administration proposed a $228 billion reduction in spending on mandatory Farm Bill programs in the next 10 years. Those reductions include cutting crop insurance subsidies to $40,000 per year while eliminating the Harvest Price Option (HPO) and eliminating farm program subsidies for those farmers with a $500,000 AGI or higher.
  • Getting the Votes: Although Congress is under Republican control, that isn’t an automatic approval. In the U.S. Senate, 60 votes are required for passage, meaning that Senators will need to work across the aisle for success. While things are easier in the U.S. House of Representatives, you are still dealing with the 32-member Freedom Caucus that are ultra-conservative and less likely to support farm spending.

Fortunately, these aren’t unfamiliar challenges for the Congressional ag committees. In the House, Chairman Mike Conaway, representing Texas’ 11th Congressional District, is a long-time member of the House Agriculture Committee and played a key role in the passage of both the 2008 and 2014 Farm Bills. The Senate Agriculture Committee is in a similar situation with Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas. This knowledge of the Farm Bill process will prove useful as they navigate the development of the 2018 submission.

But consensus must be built.

The House Agriculture Committee is hosting listening sessions at farm shows across the country, and most recently at the Farm Progress show in late August. You can read about these sessions, and in many cases view and/or listen to the grower feedback via the committee website. The Senate Agriculture Committee is doing much the same, but on a bigger scale.

In addition to the committees, agriculture organization are starting to formally declare their Farm Bill priorities. From the American Farm Bureau Federation to the State Departments of Agriculture, expectations are being established. Through the upcoming annual meeting season, we can only expect this to increase in attention received.

If you are involved in agriculture – in either crop or livestock production – you owe it to yourself and your business to be part of the conversation on the 2018 Farm Bill. In fact, if you are concerned with our nation’s food security and supply of domestic renewable energy and fiber, the negotiations for the 2018 Farm Bill are worth your time.

Get involved. Attend a meeting. Form an opinion. Call your elected officials.

It could be the difference between the Farm Bill we’re given and the Farm Bill we want.