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Looking For Some Certainty, Farmers Await Farm Bill Passage

Reuters writer Humeyra Pamuk reported last week that, “U.S. soybean farmer Mike Schlosser does not expect President Donald Trump’s trade war with China, the single biggest headwind to his business, to end any time soon. But he is among many in farm country who expect at least some good news this year – in the form of a new Farm Bill.”

“‘It’s our safety net,’ Schlosser, of North Dakota, said. ‘We could use all the help we can to eliminate any uncertainty in times like this,’ he said.”

The article added, “[Curt Mether, a corn and soybean farmer from Iowa] noted a new farm bill could help farmers survive the ongoing trade dispute, which has driven China, traditionally the biggest buyer of U.S. agriculture exports, mostly out of the market.”

While U.S. farmers deal with the negative impacts of trade policy and wait for a new Farm Bill to be passed, a recent Congressional Research Service report pointed out that, “The net farm income forecast for 2018 is substantially below the 10-year average of $87 billion. In both nominal and inflation-adjusted dollars, the 2018 forecast is the lowest since 2016.” (“U.S. Farm Income Outlook for 2018 (September 21, 2018)).

Also last week, Bloomberg writers Laura Litvan and Erik Wasson reported last week that, “On the farm bill, lawmakers are working on a five-year measure to reauthorize farm subsidies, crop insurance and the food stamp program. Without a deal, farmers who are already struggling under new Chinese tariffs amid Trump’s trade war would begin to feel the effects of lost subsidies beginning in January.

The House and Senate have passed largely similar bills, but they disagree over food stamps.”

The Bloomberg article noted that, “Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a senior Republican on the Agriculture Committee, said that if all else fails Congress will extend the current law.

‘If the White House is willing to back off of food stamps, we’ll have a farm bill before Christmas,’ Grassley said. ‘If not, there will be an extension of the current bill.’

With respect to timing, DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported last week that, “Congress is in session this week, but then goes on Thanksgiving break until Nov. 27. Lawmakers have to approve some key spending bills to keep the government from shutting down before a Dec. 7 deadline. The House right now is scheduled to wrap up the year Dec. 13, and the Senate’s target date to end is Dec. 14.

“[Sen. Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kans.)] said congressional staff needs 10 days to get the paperwork done on farm bill language and get cost scores back from the Congressional Budget Office.”

On the issue of a possible extension, recall that in a recent interview, Rep. Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) pointed out that, “But if we’re not going to get this done by the end of the year, then I think we have to talk about an extension.

“And if that’s the case, an extension is almost as big of a problem as getting the bill done. It’s not going to be a slam dunk.

There’s going to be people bringing things to the table and so forth. Who knows what it’ll get tangled up in? It’s just not a good…,” the Ag Committee Chairman elect said.

Similarly, in a separate DTN article last week, Mr. Clayton pointed out that,

Cutting into crop insurance, the main safety net for producers, is the risk to the farm bill if Congress can’t come to terms between now and the time lawmakers adjourn for 2018.

Meanwhile, an update posted on Saturday at the Red River Farm Network (RRFN) Online reported that, “Negotiations need to be wrapped up Monday or Tuesday if the farm bill is going to pass before the end of the year. House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson made that point Saturday during stops at the Minnesota Farm Bureau and Minnesota Farmers Union conventions.

The RRFN article indicated that, ” If the farm bill isn’t completed during the lame duck session, Peterson is prepared to bring it up for a vote in January.

“‘I want the (agriculture) committee organized as soon as possible so I can take the bill that we have now, pass it in the House and send it over. Even if Stabenow doesn’t have everything that she wants, let her vote against it if that’s what she wants to do.’

“One way or another, Peterson is confident the farm bill will get done.”

As farmers continue to wait for progress on trade negotiations and the Farm Bill, Reuters writer Humeyra Pamuk reported last week that, “U.S. Department of Agriculture has paid out nearly $840 million to farmers to date as part of a promised $12 billion aid program rolled out by President Donald Trump last July to offset losses from the imposition of tariffs on American exports.

“A total of $837.8 million to date has been paid out with the top five commodities being soybeans, wheat, corn, dairy and hogs, USDA told Reuters. The five states that received the highest amount of aid were Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Indiana and Minnesota.”

The Reuters article stated that, “Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the second $6 billion was set to be outlined in December. He added that there were no plans for now to extend the aid into 2019.”

Keith Good

Keith Good is the social media manager for the farmdoc project at the University of Illinois. He is well known in agricultural circles for the daily FarmPolicy.com News Summary.

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