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Behind the scenes, legislators still working toward a farm bill


WASHINGTON, D.C. — The 2018 farm bill is not finished, but not forgotten either, as it remains a priority in both the U.S. House and the Senate.

Each chamber passed versions of the farm bill over the summer. Before a final version can be approved, the differences in the two pieces of legislation need to be reconciled, from small changes in the language to changes to policies and programs.

The 2014 farm bill expired at the end of September. Both chambers’ agriculture committees were focused on passing a new bill before the old bill expired, but could not reconcile the differences in time.

“An extension of the current law is not on the table right now. The Chairman and ranking members are focused on getting a new farm bill negotiated and passed as quickly as possible to deliver certainty to farm country,” said Meghan Cline, press secretary of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

She said negotiations are ongoing and members and staff are meeting regularly and often to find agreement in every title.

An unidentified committee aide with the House Agriculture Committee said Congress is not in session until the week of Nov. 12, but members of the staff meet daily to discuss the finer points and the members of Congress are always available to work through details.

While nutrition-funding title changes in the House bill have been a public area of disagreement between the two bills, House Ag Chair Michael Conaway (R-Texas) has said there are other complications. Removing the nutrition aspect of the bill would still not result in a bill right now.

The House committee aide said they are getting close to completing several parts of the bill, like the trade and credit titles, but would not specify which, as Conaway has not publicly discussed them.

She said Congress can move quickly when it has to but often moves slowly, especially the Senate.

After the Senate passed its version of the farm bill in July, the House prepared the initial document of changes in the bill in a week. It took the Senate several more weeks to have the same document prepared on the House-approved version.

The aide said Congress will be in session until about Dec. 10, though it often runs longer than planned if important bills are being discussed. As Conaway and the others involved view the 2018 farm bill as important, everyone has stated they will work hard to pass a bill.

“He’s going to really be fighting to get this thing done. He's said it’s not going to be easier to write a new farm bill next year … regardless of who the new chairman is,” the aide said.

Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), ranking member of the committee, has said he is not interested in delaying the farm bill until next year, she added – he wants to do it now.

Andrew Walmsely, director of Congressional Relations with the American Farm Bureau Federation, said although it isn't visible, negotiations continue to take place.

“They're not talking about it (publicly), and that makes me think we'll get it done by the end of the year,” he said. If there were significant problems with negotiations, he thinks someone would speak out about it.

Walmsely has heard some titles are close to being closed out, but a few others still have issues.

“The big hairy beast of the bill, both with money and philosophically, is Title 1 (payments and loans) and Title 2 (conservation),” he said. Trying to make sure everything is within the Congressional Budget Office guidelines, and the details on how to make the conservation title work – financially and as policy – are concerns.

He said there are things the Farm Bureau likes in both bills and things the organization would like to change.

“(The farm bill) does have to get done before this next year, so that way we make sure we have our crop insurance and all these other programs that go along with it,” said Doug Rebout, a dairy farmer from Wisconsin.