Farm bill negotiators eye lame duck for deal

Farm Bill

Farm Bill

The four lead farm bill negotiators failed to reach a deal in time to avert Sunday’s expiration of the 2014 law, but they emerged Wednesday from their first face-to-face meeting in nearly two weeks to say they are committed to finalizing an agreement that Congress can consider following the mid-term elections.

The expiration of the 2014 farm bill will leave some mostly small programs without funding and others without implementing authority. USDA is taking steps to wind down some programs temporarily. The Farm Service Agency has issued a directive to state and county offices to stop finalizing new contracts or accepting applications for the Conservation Reserve Program after Friday.

The negotiators say they have until December, when the current Congress is expected to adjourn, to finalize a new bill. The House is expected to adjourn this week until after the Nov. 6 elections.

“We’re continuing on, committed to working through October and committed to getting this done before the end of the year,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee.

No additional meeting of the negotiators has been scheduled. But House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said he planned to stay in Washington next wee and would remain available through October for additional negotiations.

The lead negotiators – Stabenow, Conaway, Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts and House Agriculture’s ranking member, Collin Peterson – issued a joint statement after the meeting that said: “Each of us is still at the negotiating table, and we remain committed to working together on a Farm Bill. Our conversations are productive, and progress toward an agreement is taking shape. We are going to get this right.”

Many issues remain unresolved, including a disagreement over the treatment of base acreage that hasn’t been planted to program crops, and over work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. According to Conaway, the negotiators have only closed out two of the bill’s 12 titles, the trade and credit sections, which were among the least controversial.

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But he insisted that the negotiators made some progress Wednesday, though he didn’t specify what was achieved. “Each of us (is) moving gradually towards each other on the policy side and the money side. … I’m going their way,, and they’re coming my way, so we’re making progress.”

Roberts, R-Kan., said they had reached agreement on 29 of 54 provisions in the nutrition title.

But Peterson, D-Minn., said on Tuesday that the negotiators have made no headway so far on resolving the dispute over SNAP work rules.

The House-passed bill would increase the number of able-bodied adults on SNAP who would be required to work or be in an approved training program.

While the 2014 farm bill expires on Sunday, the impact on programs will vary widely. Crop insurance is permanently authorized and won’t be affected, and major commodity programs will continue into effect for the duration of each individual crop’s marketing year. However, dairy producers’ Margin Protection Program is set to end Dec. 31. At that point, If Congress hasn’t passed a new bill or an extension of the 2014 farm bill, a 1949 law will kick in that would force USDA to take action to increase milk prices.

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