It's anybody's guess if the ag community will see a new farm bill by the end of the year, but if rumors are any indication, it probably isn't likely.
Largely, it’s a timeline issue. Though the big four in the farm bill conference – Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Reps. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and Collin Peterson, D-Minn. – have been relatively tight-lipped about the closed-door negotiations, it's evident that has taken a while to get things rolling. Officially, bicameral negotiations have been ongoing since Oct. 30.
According to various reports, Peterson has been rather optimistic about the negotiation process, even revealing to South Dakota's Inforum that a January vote on the complete legislation in both chambers is likely, since legislators are scheduled to head home for the December recess on Friday.
One hurdle in the discussion has been food stamps. Peterson said he expects food stamp cuts to come closer to the Senate's initial numbers, rather than the House's, and also estimated that the final bill is likely to pass the Senate but an approving vote in the House is questionable.
Part of that uncertainty may be derived from disagreements on Title 1 commodity programs, Feedstuffs' staff editor Jacqui Fatka reported on Friday.
Fatka said varying reports from negotiators indicate that a majority of the meeting time has been spent hashing out commodity priorities. She said Mary Kay Thatcher, director of public policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation, believes leaders have tentatively agreed to use some form of base acres for both the shallow loss program and target prices for the House and Senate versions.
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As the negotiators continue to work on a complete plan, House Speaker John Boehner last week floated the idea of a one-month extension to avoid the so-called milk cliff that reversion to mid-century permanent law could bring.
Many farm groups have been quiet on the idea of a short-term extension, but have returned mixed feelings on a long-term extension. The National Corn Growers Association, American Soybean Association and U.S. Canola Association said late last month in a letter proposing a Title 1 "compromise" that if commodity payments are tied to current-year plantings, that they would "reluctantly oppose" a new bill and support an extension of 2008 policy.
Others aren't privy to that idea. Conservation and trade advancement groups say an extension would ignore programs critical to the environment and ag's bottom line.
Southern groups, including the USA Rice Federation and National Cotton Council, have argued that extending current law would provide no benefits to the federal budget and leave farmers without predictable policy.
That point of view is shared by many in the ag community at large. With the ever-increasing wait, farmers are squirming. Without knowing what's to come on 2014 ag policy, it's difficult to plan ahead.
"With the 2013 crop just harvested being the last that is subject to the 2008 law, farmers are left making plans for their 2014 crops with uncertainty about the rules and regulations that will govern the farm commodity system," Purdue University associate professor of agricultural economics Roman Keeney explained in a university statement.
Keeney suggested that the issue is exacerbated because this is the second year in a row farmers have struggled to make decisions in the hypothetical dark.
"Farmers already will be making their planting decisions for the 2014 crop with the uncertainty of markets and weather. The odds would seem to favor that those unknowns will be compounded by the uncertainty of the regulations and support mechanisms that govern the agricultural economy via the farm bill – just as they were for the 2013 crop year," he said.
Keeney, like Peterson, said a bill passed in 2014 would likely end up being closer to the Senate version, since the Obama administration has warned that any law offering a reduction in nutrition spending by more than $1 billion per year could be vetoed.