2018 Farm Bill: it starts in 2017

December 5, 2016

By Louie Perry

Could the 2018 farm bill be written in 2017? It’s doubtful because of the newly installed Trump Administration’s early focus on Obamacare reform, border security, and tax reform. But you can rest assured that most of the planning and shaping and early “spade work” will begin in 2017.

Farm-state members of Congress are already focused on the next farm bill. Most observers think the House Agriculture Committee is more likely to move first than is its Senate counterpart. Both will be holding hearings and preparing for Farm Bill action.
One big difference between this farm bill and the last few is the state of the farm economy. The new farm bill will be written at a time when farm income is down, the prices of many commodities are low, and farm debt loads are becoming a greater concern.

Republicans will control both houses of Congress as the new farm is written, and one argument from 2014 will probably be fought out again: whether to split the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps) from the farm, conservation and other programs that come to mind for most people when they say “farm bill.” SNAP has been a part of every farm bill since 1973, but some conservatives have advocated splitting it from the legislation. Most but not all farm-state lawmakers have opposed that, fearing they could not round up enough votes to pass farm programs without urban support for SNAP. In early conversations during the Presidential campaign, the Trump Agriculture Committee representative said that Mr. Trump would not attempt the separate ag programs from nutrition programs so that is a good indication.

Livestock, poultry and egg groups have not traditionally been major players in farm bill debates, but that has changed in the last few debates for a simple reason: Partisan and ideological division has engendered a Congress that is gridlocked most of the time, so any agricultural group that wants new legislation probably needs to try and attach it to the farm bill: Individual bills now rarely pass on their own.

So even though arguments about corn and soybean income supports may seem pretty far removed from animal agriculture’s typical concerns, we need to be involved in farm bill preparations on the early end. Anything we want to pass – for instance, new animal health initiatives – will need to be part of the 2018 farm bill discussion. But we definitely can’t wait till 2018 to make our priorities known to Committee leaders and our legislative champions. UEP plans to develop a list of priorities that have staff, executive committee and board support and to advocate for those priorities in 2017.