The Farm Bill is an all-encompassing, multiyear law that governs an array of agricultural and food programs. Expiring every five years, it provides an opportunity for policymakers to address a broad range of agricultural and food programs.
In the past, farm bills have primarily focused on commodity programs that support a handful of staple commodities – corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, rice, dairy and sugar. This year’s farm bill will address similar commodities and the process won’t be all that different from years past.
Each farm bill is different but recent farm bills have faced legislative hurdles for enactment from insufficient passage votes to presidential vetoes. Extensions are sometimes needed to make it to the finish line. The 2002 farm bill was the last farm bill to be enacted before its fiscal year expiration. The 2008 and 2014 farm bills were each enacted during extensions of the previous farm bill.
The last farm bill to expire was in 2012 and had some unique circumstances. The 2008 farm bill was authorized until the end of 2012 but was extended for a short period under appropriations acts. The 112th Congress was about to end legislatively so a one-year extension of all provisions was enacted to cover fiscal year 2013 and the 2013 crop year. Programs that required mandatory funding did not continue in fiscal year 2013 because no additional mandatory funding was provided during the extension.
Depending on the program, the timing and consequences of farm bill expiration vary. There are two principal expiration dates for the farm bill: the end of the fiscal year (September 30) and the end of the crop year (December 31). For programs with mandatory spending – nutrition and conservation – the fiscal deadline has far more consequences. Farm commodity support programs, on the other hand, are authorized on the basis of crop years. For those programs, December 31 is far more important.
The first commodity harvested in the 2024 crop year (and thus not covered by the 2018 farm bill) is dairy on January 1, 2024, since cows are milked every day of the year. Without reauthorization of commodity support programs, like the Dairy Margin Coverage program, dairy is the first commodity to face the realities of a farm bill expiration. New plantings of other commodities harvested in 2024 — such as wheat, corn or soybeans — would not be affected until harvest in the summer or fall of 2024, when their respective marketing years would begin.
The type of funding the program receives also affects the consequences of the expiration and extension. Programs that rely on mandatory funding are the most at risk of interruption if a farm bill expires. Without reauthorization or an extension, these programs generally cease to operate following a farm bill expiration.
Federal crop insurance programs are permanently authorized and funded by the Federal Crop Insurance Act. The program does not expire with the 2018 farm bill. In addition, there are several agricultural disaster programs for livestock that were previously authorized by farm bills and are not subject to the farm bill expiration. Those programs include: Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP), Emergency Assistance for Livestock, honey bees and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP).
For conservation programs, program authority is permanent but the funding could affect the programs’ operation. The 2018 farm bill funded conservation programs through fiscal year 2023, but the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) extended some conservation programs and their funding authority for an additional 10 years through fiscal 2031. This means that depending on the program, some conservation programs could expire at the end of fiscal year 2023 and others at the end of fiscal year 2031.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is particularly at risk. The nutrition program would continue to operate but would need an appropriations act or continuing resolution to provide funding for the program beyond the September 30 deadline.
If Congress fails to pass a new bill by January 1, 2024, some programs would revert back to the 1940s-era policy that would see the U.S. Department of Agriculture buying dairy products off the market, driving up consumer prices. This is something no one in the dairy or agriculture industry wants to occur further adding to the importance of an extension.
Wisconsin Farm Bureau will continue to work with members of Congress from both parties to move an extension forward and ultimately a farm bill. The consequences of not passing a farm bill or extension are far too great with the ripple effects moving from farm to fork.