Legislative Activity

Farm Bill Conference Progress

Last week, farm bill conferees left for the Thanksgiving break without releasing a draft agreement. Despite the break, it seems as if conversations among conferees will continue. Today, Senate and House agriculture leaders, both chairmen and ranking members, will likely discuss the farm bill via conference call, and conversations among conferees may occur next week, even as the Senate is scheduled to be out of session.

There are a few issues remaining on the negotiating table that may foreclose opportunities for House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) to push through a farm bill by the end of the year. The two titles garnering most of the conferees’ attention are title I (commodity programs) and title IV (nutrition programs, primarily the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)). Under title I, the issue of target prices remains controversial as some growers, including corn and soy growers, oppose adoption of the House’s bill that bases target prices on planted acres. These groups have now called for a long-term extension of the farm bill and their efforts have been supported by some Senators, including Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley (IA) and Mike Johanns (NE).

Further, conferees are still discussing whether to adopt the House’s dairy provision that eliminates supply management under the Dairy Market Stabilization program. House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN), who represents dairy producers in his district, has signaled that there is much support for adopting the Senate’s dairy provision that couples margin insurance with supply management. As for title IV, there seems to be no clear indication that substantial progress has been on SNAP reform.

Outside of titles I and IV, conferees are still deciding how to address concerns with the Department of Agriculture’s country-of-origin labeling rules. Although some conferees would like to fully repeal the rules, this will not likely happen because many conferees are concerned with a World Trade Organization (WTO) challenge. Most conferees are looking to balance reforms that would avoid a WTO challenge while making the rules less stringent.

Given that Chairwoman Stabenow has pushed for the farm bill to be included in a larger congressional budget deal, not reaching an agreement before Thanksgiving break is a seeming blow to passing a farm bill by the end of this year. Another potential blow to Sen. Stabenow’s plans is the budget conference not meeting its December 13 deadline of reaching a budget deal to which she would like to attach the farm bill. Should the budget conference not reach a deal, which is expected, agriculture leadership would most likely be in a position to push for an extension of the farm bill. With the window closing on legislative days, concerns are growing that a standalone farm bill will have trouble passing both chambers and avoiding a White House veto.