What An Expiring Farm Bill Means

The following editorial was written by Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Director of National Affairs Tyler Wenzlaff and edited by Mid-West Farm Report.

The Farm Bill is a 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 ag and food programs.

In the past, farm bills have primarily focused on commodity programs that support a handful of staple commodities. This year’s bill will address similar commodities and the process won’t be all that different from years past.

Each farm bill is different. But recent bills have faced legislative hurdles for enactment from insufficient passage votes to presidential vetoes. Extensions can get it to the finish line. Congress enacted the 2002 farm bill before its fiscal year expiration. Congress enacted the 2008 and 2014 bills each during extensions of the previous farm bill.

The last bill to expire was in 2012 and had some unique circumstances. Congress authorized the 2008 farm bill until the end of 2012 but extended it for a short period under appropriations acts. The 112th Congress was about to end legislatively, so they enacted a one-year extension of all provisions 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 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 bill: the end of the fiscal year (Sep. 30) and the end of the crop year (Dec. 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, Dec. 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 Jan. 1. This is because 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 are not impacted until harvest in the summer or fall of 2024. That’s when their respective marketing years would begin.

The type of funding the program gets 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.

The Federal Crop Insurance Act permanently authorizes and funds crop insurance programs. The program does not expire with the 2018 farm bill. In addition, several agricultural disaster programs for livestock are not subject to the farm bill expiration. This is because Congress authorized them in previous farm bills. Those programs include: Livestock Indemnity Program, Livestock Forage Disaster Program, Emergency Assistance for Livestock, honey bees and Farm-Raised Fish Program.

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 extended some conservation programs and their funding authority for an additional 10 years. Depending on the conservation program, some could expire at the end of 2023 and others at the end of 2031.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is particularly at risk. SNAP would continue to operate but would need an appropriations act or continuing resolution to fund the program beyond Sep. 30.

If Congress fails to pass a new bill by Jan.1, some programs would revert back to the 1940s-era policy that would see the USDA buying dairy products off the market, driving up consumer prices. This is something no one in agriculture wants to see happen.

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.