Another week has gone by with no conference committee action on the new farm bill. The two bills have some drastic differences which will make the conference committee negotiations challenging. Sec of Ag Sonny Perdue remains hopeful a new bill will be ready by the end of September, “I don’t think too many lawmakers will want to face the fall elections with no new Farm Bill in place.”
Perdue said farmers are in need of the certainty a new bill would provide, “With the uncertainty over trade, farmers would greatly appreciate the certainty that a new Farm Bill would provide.” The bill has many critics. Environmental and activist groups have been critical of the crop insurance, conservation, and nutrition titles. Perdue has some criticism for the critics, “The other side is communicating every day on how we are trying to harm them and damage them, and you take successful family farms and label them factory farms or corporate farms. In America, we should not punish people who are successful in any industry including agriculture.” He urged farmers to speak up and be advocates for the farm bill and for agriculture.
Who will actually make up the conference committee from the House and from the Senate has not been decided yet, but staffers from both chambers have been meeting to work out details. While the changes to the nutrition title represent some of the most glaring differences between the House and Senate versions, there are other areas where the bills are far apart. The conference committee will also have to play the numbers game to bridge a wide funding gap between the two conservation titles. The House bill seeks to make $800 million in cuts to conservation programs over a decade, according to CBO. Whereas the Senate measure makes no overall cuts to the conservation title, although some programs would see slight reductions as resources are reshuffled around.
Conservation is another area where the House and Senate bills differ greatly. Each measure would make tweaks to USDA’s three flagship conservation programs in different ways, but the biggest hurdle will be how to address the House’s plan to eliminate the Conservation Stewardship Program and fold parts of it into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
It will take compromise and bi-partisan cooperation to put the final bill together. These, however, are two things that are in short supply in Washington these days.