Farm bill in the lame duck?

By Jessica Domel

Lawmakers left for the Thanksgiving break close to a deal on a new farm bill but without an agreement in place.

U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway of Texas and committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson sent Senate negotiators an offer to reach an agreement on all 12 titles of the farm bill on Friday, Nov. 19.

Staff for both the House and Senate committees continued to work toward an agreement the following week, with the end-of-session deadline looming on the horizon.

“We’re hoping it will be done with, and we’ll be able to move on by the end-of-the-year,” Will Rodger, director of Policy Communications for the American Farm Bureau Federation, said. “If not, we think that’s going to be job one for the ag committees. We hope it’ll be job one for leadership.”

If a farm bill is not reached before Congress adjourns for Christmas, an extension of the current bill is needed to ensure the nation’s farmers, ranchers and families have access to the programs they need.

“Extension is second best. I think it’s pretty much unthinkable that we won’t have something because without a farm bill, you basically don’t have a department of agriculture,” Rodger said. “We’ll have an extension of some sort whether it’s just a budgetary continuation of former programs or formal extension of the bill.”

Rodger said the question is whether or not rural development and conservation will be addressed this year or next.

“When it’s going to happen, we don’t know, but again, we are pretty optimistic we’ll see something by the end of the year,” Rodger said.

If a farm bill is not reached by the end of the year, the legislation will face a democratic majority in the House once an agreement is reached.

Rodger said Republican-led or Democratic-led, AFBF will work with Congress to do what is best for the agricultural community.

“What we look for in any piece of legislation or any Congress is just an awareness of what it is that farmers need and a willingness to deliver,” Rodger said. “There’s no question it’s flipped in the House. It’s a very different situation for Republicans both in the White House and Congress, but for us, we think things are going to be okay.”

A change in leadership doesn’t mean the successes the farm community has seen can’t be continued with a Democratic House, Rodger explained.

“If you look at the two main committees’ jurisdiction—agriculture in the House and agriculture in the Senate—we have had a really remarkable cooperation,” Rodger said. “Collin Peterson is the incoming chair. He said a couple of things. One is that he wants to get a farm bill done as soon as he can.”

The second is Peterson would like to get the bill done before he takes over as chair of the House Committee on Agriculture.

“We’ve got four negotiators hammering out a final farm bill,” Rodger said. “We’re really enthusiastic and optimistic about that.”

Conaway and Peterson are joined in main farm bill negotiations by Pat Roberts, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture Nutrition and Forestry, and committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow.

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