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Budget issues may put dimmer on next farm bill

November elections will dictate attitudes and the direction the next farm bill will take.

Forrest Laws

July 22, 2020

Drafting a new farm bill has become a more and more difficult undertaking with each new law generally taking longer and longer to write and pass, depending on the budget and economic conditions when it was written.

The difficulty in passing the previous bills may pale in comparison when the House and Senate agriculture committees begin trying to write new legislation in 2021 and 2022, according to Hunt Shipman, principal and director of Cornerstone Government Affairs.

“Autumn touched on the fact we’ve now spent more than $3 trillion before we even started writing this next farm bill,” said Shipman, referring to Autumn Veazey Price, vice president for government relations at Land O’Lakes, Inc. Shipman and Price were speakers at the Mid-South Agricultural and Environment Law Conference, which was held online.

“As you know if you’ve seen previous farm bill slides the vast majority of the farm bill is nutrition assistance these days anyway,” he said. (About $850 billion of the $2-trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act is designated for food bank administrative costs and USDA food purchases, according to USDA.)

See, Will trade policy dominate the next farm bill debate?

Shipman, who worked on the 2002 farm bill as an assistant secretary at USDA, displayed two slides that listed the national debt as a percentage of the gross domestic product or GDP in the farm bill going back to the 1985 farm bill.

“We are exceeding 100 percent (on the 2014 and 2018 farm bills),” he said. “But as you go back to previous years that ratio is much lower in years when I’d say we had a more favorable farm bill writing environment.” (Example: A ratio of 41.78 percent in the months leading up to passage of the 1985 law.)

“I think it’s inevitable that as we get closer to the next farm bill this is going to be an issue that comes into play.” (The national debt as a percentage of GDP for the 2014 farm bill was 101.47% and for the 2018 farm bill 104.96%.)

The November elections this year will dictate much of the congressional attitude and the administration’s attitude “about where we’re going on the farm bill,” he noted. “The 2001-02 farm bill that I worked on at USDA — we began that farm bill early, and we did so, in part, because we didn’t want to go into a mid-term election with a farm bill facing us.

“At the time, a Republican-controlled House and a Democratically-controlled Senate was setting up a bad environment from the administration’s perspective to write a new farm bill,” Shipman said.

The Trump administration’s positions on trade, which are different from previous Republican and Democratic administrations, could also have an impact on the new farm law, he said.

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About the Author(s)

Forrest Laws

Forrest Laws spent 10 years with The Memphis Press-Scimitar before joining Delta Farm Press in 1980. He has written extensively on farm production practices, crop marketing, farm legislation, environmental regulations and alternative energy. He resides in Memphis, Tenn. He served as a missile launch officer in the U.S. Air Force before resuming his career in journalism with The Press-Scimitar.

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