Congressional negotiations to renew the U.S. farm bill are underway in Washington D.C, and several significant changes could be in the works for Iowa farmers.
Iowa is represented in the negotiations by a Democrat and a Republican — Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. Steve King, respectively. The pair are among a group of lawmakers trying to reconcile separate bills passed by the Senate and House.
Although the bills have several points of departure, the most contentious issue may involve cuts to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The House bill contains $40 billion in cuts to the food assistance program — the Senate version a much less significant $4.1 billion. While that issue is at the forefront politically, the two bills contain other provisions that could result in significant change for the farming community.
Proposed changes include the end of direct subsidy payments to farmers, increased subsidies for crop insurance and the introduction of new disaster assistance programs. The proposed changes seem to be a mixed bag for farmers. While the end of direct subsidies would represent an annual loss of more than $5 billion, the proposed new insurance subsidies and assistance programs would help provide a softer landing in event of poor market prices or disaster. It’s projected the new bill could provide around $1 billion in additional crop insurance subsidies. Whether all or any of those changes make it into the new farm bill — or whether the farm bill is even passed — is still up in the air.
That’s because the outlook for negotiations is unclear, as political battles and gridlock have delayed passage of comprehensive farm legislation. Though Congress typically passes a new farm bill every five years, renewal of this year’s farm bill has been slowed, in part thanks to the recent government shutdown.
Negotiators have until the end of the year to finalize a new agreement. Without one, unwanted consequences will soon follow — namely, some agricultural policies will be tied to Depression-era laws. These policies include things like milk price subsidies. In the absence of a new bill, milk prices could skyrocket without government price support.
Some politicians and analysts have speculated that renewal of the farm bill could be made easier should it be wrapped up into larger budget negotiations. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: Farmers in Iowa are eagerly anticipating renewal of this $500 billion bill as the clock winds closer to January 1.