As difficult as it will be to get the House and Senate conferees to reach an agreement on the 2018 Farm Bill and get it to the president’s desk by Sept. 30 when the current legislation expires, there will still be a ton of work to do after the bill is signed into law before it becomes programs farmers can actually sign up.
Working out the details of regulations for each section of the bill and getting guidance to state Farm Service Agency offices, which then have to push everything down to county offices, is a detailed and gargantuan task that often takes months to accomplish.
"The bill will have to be scored through the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) and will have to go through general counsel, then out to the secretary of agriculture, who will assign pieces of it to deputy undersecretaries who will be responsible for the administration of programs," says Kansas FSA executive director David Schemm.
The challenge is to end up with specific programs for farmers that meet the intent of what Congress agreed should be in the bill, keeping those programs within the budget established and getting all the details worked out in time for farmers to sign up.
"As a general rule, the various people working on implementation will be calling on the folks who are in the field, from state directors and even county officers, to help them make sure they are writing rules that are going to work for the farmers who use the program," Schemm says.
This year’s implementation work may be complicated somewhat by a couple of other ongoing issues — one being ongoing natural disasters that have resulted in emergency aid to farmers hit by flooding, drought, or wildfires; the other being the $12 billion in aid for farmers who are losing money because of the ongoing trade wars.
Secretary of Ag Sonny Perdue has said that farmers will be able to apply for the trade-induced emergency aid as early as September. However, trying to implement the aid package that quickly may run into trouble because, logically, harvest would need to be complete in order to figure out payments. Across the U.S., harvest won’t be anywhere near complete by Sept. 1, and most fall crops may not be in the bin until sometime in October or even November.
Farm Policy Facts, a non-profit coalition of farm commodity groups created to advise Congress on issues important to farmers, is calling on the conference committee to strengthen the titles of the farm bill that will help producers down the road as the impact of trade issues continues.
In a report published on July 31, Farm Policy Facts said the retaliatory tariffs are causing pain across all segments of the farm economy, from corn and soybeans to sirloins and specialty crops. But even worse, the report said, foreign governments are introducing subsidy programs that give their producers an advantage.
Meanwhile, Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., released its monthly banker confidence report showing that 78% of bank CEOs reported that the negative impact of the trade disputes was hitting communities all across their reporting region, and that 75% of bank executives reported that grain farmers were being harmed by the trade situation.
Creighton reported "weakened confidence" in the overall rural economy. Farm incomes are down, interest rates are ticking up and it is becoming harder for farmers to meet loan obligations.
In Kansas, Schemm says his office has seen an increase in the number of farmers looking for guaranteed loans.
Pat Roberts, R-Kan. and Senate Ag Committee chairman, has made it clear that he wants to get a farm bill to the president before the Sept. 30 deadline. Roberts says that be believes the need to provide certainty to farmers, rural communities and farms bankers will outweigh partisan battles in the conference process.