Few farm bills in the past 20 years have involved major changes in agricultural policy such as those ushered in by the Agriculture and Food Act of 1981 or the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform or FAIR Act of 1996.
The 1981 farm bill eliminated rice allotments and marketing quotas and introduced a more market-oriented philosophy to farm programs. The 1996 law took that a step closer by decoupling farm program payments from prices for the first time since the 1930s.
The next farm bill, which would normally be completed in 2022 or 2023 when the 2018 law expires, may bring more policy changes — not in farm programs per se — but due to trade issues, according to Hunt Shipman, principal and director of the Cornerstone Government Affairs organization in Washington.
Shipman, who spoke on the outlook for the next farm bill at the Mid-South Agricultural and Environmental Law Conference, said passing a new law through both houses of Congress and getting it signed by the president may be difficult from several standpoints.
“We’re heading into a different scenario than we’ve ever written a farm bill in the past,” said Shipman. “I think that where we look at the traditional breakdown of nutrition programs and commodity programs the budget pressures that we will be under are going to be tremendous — because of the $3 trillion Congress has already spent on the coronavirus pandemic.
“The political environment — we’re going to have a new Agriculture Committee chairman in the Senate and a new chairman or ranking member or both in the House,” he said. “Certainly, we will have a new ranking member on the Republican side, and I think Chairman Colin Peterson, while a forceful advocate for agriculture, faces a tough re-election this year.”
Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic outcome “could put a wild card on that that is much too early to call,” Shipman noted. “And, of course, there are the policy issues that we face, and while I don’t think we’re hearing a hue and cry for a major overhaul of agricultural policy, I think we do see new issues taking greater priority than what we’ve seen in the past.”
The potential for the likelihood of less money to do it “will create greater competition for these dollars for sure,” he said.