By TIMOTHY EGGERT
Certain USDA programs will begin to go dark unless Congress authorizes a new farm bill that covers the next five years or passes a short-term extension of the existing legislation.
That’s already been the case for some programs with funding tied to the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, such as organic farmer support programs like the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program.
The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is also being impacted by the lapsed farm bill because the Farm Service Agency’s authority to authorize new CRP contracts expired when the bill expired.
Although payments on existing CRP contracts will continue, farmers will not be able to enroll new land in the program or re-enroll land if a contract expired until there’s an extension or a new farm bill.
A $450,000-per-farmer annual payment limit for projects under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) expired on Sept. 30, too.
And enrollment into the Price Loss Coverage and Agricultural Risk Coverage programs for the 2024 crop year is also on hold under a lapsed farm bill. Payments for the 2022 crop year, however, will continue because the money was authorized before the 2018 bill expired.
In total, about 19 separate farm bill initiatives with mandatory funding that don’t have a baseline will temporarily cease if the pot of money they were given in 2018 runs out.
Other program funding is linked to the crop year or marketing year, and most of USDA’s farm programs, including those covered under the Commodity Title and dairy support measures, officially expire Dec. 31.
Title II conservation programs were extended through fiscal year 2031 under the Inflation Reduction Act and will continue to receive funding until then. The Federal Crop Insurance Act is authorized with permanent funding, meaning it never expires and funding will keep flowing.
And although the farm bill crafts regulations around the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, funding for the food aid measure is tied to annual appropriations.
Were Jan. 1, 2024, to come without an extension or a new farm bill passed, then the U.S. farm economy could turn “chaotic,” according to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Specifically, farm programs would automatically revert to “permanent law” status, meaning existing programs would be replaced with a set of permanent provisions tied to the Agricultural Acts of 1938 and 1949.
“It would give me, secretary of agriculture, incredible discretion to discern the level of parity for most of the basic commodities and which farmers would benefit and which farmers would not,” Vilsack said Oct. 16 during a farm visit in rural Kankakee County.
A “very unusual circumstance” would follow, wherein if a farmer had acres allotted for wheat production in the 1940s, for instance, then that farmer would continue to receive support while a recent wheat producer would not get support, Vilsack said.
While a full farm bill expiration hasn’t happened before, Congress has experienced lapses in the legislation.
The “current record holder for the longest stretch” is held by the 2014 farm bill, which was supposed to have been reauthorized in 2012 after the 2011 legislation expired, according to Jonathan Coppess, University of Illinois associate professor and director of the Gardner Agriculture Policy Program.
And the 2018 farm bill, conversely, is the only farm bill in recent history that was reauthorized within the year of the previous bill’s expiration, Coppess said during a recent webinar.
“It typically does take more than one Congress in one year to get a farm bill done,” Coppess said. “So, if in fact we get into extension territory, or this drags out past 2023, we are not in an anomalous situation.”
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