The farm bill, the "fiscal cliff," taxes and spending represented key concerns from a panel of ag and rural policy stakeholders Wednesday at the Farm Foundation Forum on post-election issues.
Panelists discussed a wide range of topics focusing on agriculture, though the main attraction was the path of the farm bill. Panelists Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and Craig Jagger of Legis Consulting tackled the topic from timeline to bill contents.
Hoefner speculated that while many farm groups hold out hope for a lame duck bill, the timeline is tight. With a very limited number of working days before 2012 becomes history, Hoefner said the best solution is a five-year bill, though certain factors have to come together to make that happen.
"Let's be honest and clear that there are a maximum of four weeks available. To [pass a five-year bill] you would need a week for the House floor action, you'd need a good ten days if not two weeks for a very, very speedy farm bill conference and then another week to get the conference reports to the floor," Hoefner said. "Is it theoretically possible? Yes, it's theoretically possible. It would be one of the quickest farm bills in history, but it is conceivable."
Hoefner added that in the event of an extension, there are a few items that are on the "must-have" list, specifically development funding and a dairy program.
Development funding, which includes organic programs, rural job creation, energy programs and market development efforts, may be most at risk, he said. If an extension option is chosen, Congress will have to explicitly provide funding for such programs.
"These are programs that have had mandatory funding in at least one farm bill cycle and in some cases two farm bill cycles, so they are newer programs, smaller programs than the big-ticket items in the farm bill, but incredibly important," Hoefner said. "They're all in a very precarious position right now."
Though there is much speculation about which route the bill will take, Jagger said if no action is taken, the new Congress will have procedural responsibilities to handle before getting the bill back to its current state.