Speaker of the House John Boehner is expected to name conferees to the Farm Bill conference committee in a matter of days, officially starting final negotiations for a final bill for the House and Senate to consider. The announcement of conferees will likely occur once Congress resolves debt ceiling issues.
We anticipate that the House will name 21 members consisting of 12 Republicans and nine Democrats. Progress on the Farm Bill is especially critical given that many farm programs, including conservation programs, expired on September 30. While programs like the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program still have authorization for another year, they aren’t being funded because of the government shutdown.
Moving the Farm Bill to conference is a significant step forward in the process to reconcile differences between the House and Senate-passed versions of the bill. Chief among the issues to resolve will be the extreme difference regarding nutrition programs where the House has proposed to cut nearly $40 billion versus the Senate proposal to cut $4 billion.
American Farmland Trust is actively working to support our priorities in conference, including securing conservation compliance for crop insurance premium subsidies, maintaining the highest possible funding for conservation programs, and ensuring programs are in place to promote local foods, farmers markets and beginning farmers.
American Farmland Trust President and CEO Andrew McElwaine has more to say on the importance of resolving remaining issues with the farm bill and getting the federal government operational.
Government Shutdown Continues into Third Week
USDA offices in Washington D.C. and across the country remain closed this week as the government shutdown approaches a third week. The shutdown has not only had very real consequences for thousands of furloughed federal employees, it has had dramatic impacts for agriculture and for consumers in recent days.
Midwestern ranchers in Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were severely impacted by an October blizzard that resulted in major livestock losses. Currently, ranchers cannot access livestock protection programs like the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) or the Emergency Livestock Assistance Program which compensates for livestock losses due to natural disasters. USDA offices are closed, limiting information for ranchers seeking reimbursement in the future. Livestock protection programs are also among expired Farm Bill programs.
Consumers across California, Oregon and Washington were exposed to salmonella from a California chicken processor. USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), which is excepted from the shutdown, was able to publish a public health alert so that state and local agencies could respond. But critical federal services have been absent during this outbreak, including Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspections and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) monitoring services for food borne illness, both of which have been suspended due to furloughs. Some CDC services have been restored due to the salmonella outbreak.
And USDA announced that it will not issue the widely anticipated U.S. crop report or the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report originally scheduled for today due to the lapse in federal funding. Absence of USDA data on crops and markets has left farmers struggling to make critical marketing decisions.