The Farm Bill Will Expire Tomorrow, Leaving Farmers In The Lurch


farmland As lawmakers deadlock on a continuing resolution to fund the government by midnight under the media’s glare, few are talking about another looming deadline: the expiration of the Farm Bill. The behemoth bill is usually reauthorized every five years, but Congress passed a nine month extension of the 2008 legislation due to gridlock over food stamp funding.

During those nine months, House Republicans stripped the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) entirely from the Farm Bill. With time running short, the House re-combined the two bills on Saturday with $40 billion cuts in food stamps, a non-starter in the Senate.

The impact of the expired Farm Bill will be staggered over the next few months, as some programs end in December while others continue til the end of the crop year. Here are a few of the programs that will disappear tomorrow:

Dairy safety net programs. The Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program, which compensates dairy producers when milk prices fall below the cost of production, will expire on Tuesday. Without any government dairy program, the USDA would have to fall back on an antiquated 1949 law that forces the government to buy milk at 1940s production costs. As a result, milk prices could double to as much as $6 a gallon on January 1.

Disaster relief. USDA chief Tom Vilsack said disaster insurance for livestock producers will go unpaid, even as 70 percent of cattle producersgrapple with severe drought and rising feed prices. After the insurance program expired in 2011, farmers were forced to kill thousands of cattle in order to conserve hay and water supplies during last year’s drought.

Conservation programs. Conservation programs including the Conservation Reserve Program, the Wetlands Reserve Program, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program, and the Grassland Reserve Program will be shut down Tuesday to any new enrollments. These programs partner with farmers to protect certain lands from agricultural use. Any farmers seeking help to restore wetlands or rehabilitate their land will have to wait indefinitely, until the program is resumed.

Fresh produce for low-income seniors. The Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program gives coupons to low-income seniors to use at farmer’s markets, roadside stands, and community supported agriculture (CSAs) in order to make fresh produce affordable. Its funding will expire tomorrow.

Trade and export. Promotional export programs will also run out of funding, including dairy and specialty crop export programs. Export deals may be delayed or entirely sabotaged if the programs are defunct for too long. Vilsack warned that Brazil trade relations, already delicate, will be impacted immediately.

International food aid. The Farm Bill extension authorized the USDA to use the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust for any unanticipated crises requiring emergency food assistance. That authority will expire tomorrow, closing off a reserve of up to 4 million metric tons of commodities like wheat, corn, and rice. In the past, the trust has been used to avert famine in Ethiopia and meet emergency food needs in Sudan and Iraq.

The pressure on the USDA builds if Congress fails to avert a government shutdown, which would close many more programs. More conservation programs and Farm Service Agency offices would close. The few USDA staff deemed “essential” would be dedicated mainly to food inspection and emergency disaster response.

Farmers and businesses, meanwhile, remain paralyzed by the uncertainty, unable to plan for the next season of planting until Congress passes a 5 year bill. As the National Sustainable Agricultural Coalition notes, many programs have been suspended since the 2008 Farm Bill expired in 2011, including aid for “beginning farmers, minority farmers, specialty crop farmers, organic farmers, value-added farm enterprises, rural small business, and renewable energy and energy conservation.”