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What happens if the 2023 Farm Bill is not passed by January?
Illinois Correspondent

PEORIA, Ill. — Managing hundreds of billions of dollars related to farm commodity, conservation and nutrition programs for U.S. producers and consumers, the farm bill, written every five years, is the largest farm spending package to be determined by Congress. Sparked by long-running party-line disputes over food assistance and climate initiatives, members failed to reach an agreement on terms for the 2023 Farm Bill by the September 30 deadline, casting the future of key farm bill programs into doubt even as the government averted shutdown by agreeing to an 11th-hour, 47-day budget extension. 
Senate Ag member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said that he was worried a farm bill may not be ready by the end of the extension. “I have my doubts that we’re going to get a five-year farm bill [this year] and we’re going to have a one-year, two-year extension. The farmers will have their usual safety nets,” Grassley said on his weekly call with reporters, with House Ag Committee Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson echoing his remarks. 
With the government averting a shutdown over the budget, 2023 Farm Bill negotiations and planning can continue. Before approval, however, lawmakers will need to finalize a permanent budget appropriation plan to address the nation’s financial needs. According to analyst Jim Wiesemeier, work and votes on fiscal year 2024 appropriations bills (and amendments) will now be a focal point, with “contentious views” coming from both sides of the political aisle and chambers.
Meanwhile, USDA Agencies updated its procedures and contingency plans for use in the event of a lapse in funding. Under the new plan, Farm Service Agency (FSA) employees will “cease all program delivery activities.” Further, USDA announced that if a shutdown continues past 10 days, one farm loan employee per service center will be on call in order to complete certain loan processing items in order to protect the security interest of the government. “This will not include any new loan processing,” the plan stated.
Certain initiatives under the USDA’s flagship conservation programs are at immediate risk with the expiration of the farm bill, according to editor Sarah Zimmerman. She reported that the Inflation Reduction Act will allow some provisions under the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to continue through September of 2031. However, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has expired.
“Unless Congress agrees to continue discretionary spending under the farm bill, programs like the Organic Certification Cost Share program would be on the chopping block even in the event of an extension,” Zimmerman said.  
While the farm bill’s SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) will continue, certain initiatives will be at risk of suspension, such as the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food assistance program along with employment and training initiatives. 
Perhaps most consequential for farmers: commodity support programs will come to an end at the conclusion of 2023 without a new farm bill. The dairy industry would be the first to endure hardship, with their commodity program expiring January 1 and others to follow.  
More than a dozen rural development programs are included in the 2018 Farm Bill, which granted the Rural Business-Cooperative Service a budget of $2.5 billion for the fiscal year that ended September 30. The Rural Utilities Service, with a budget of $10.5 billion, could also see their funding screech to a halt without a budget agreement and farm bill extension. At risk are  two notable rural broadband access programs, among other rural development initiatives.
Failure to pass a 2023 Farm Bill by January would mean farm bill programs would revert to “permanent law,” meaning that programs would revert to terms set under the 1938 and 1949 farm bills. Permanent law would require the USDA to pay 2.5 times the current market price of milk, which could upend commercial markets and raise the retail price of milk, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service. 
“Going back to permanent law would cause upheaval in commodity markets, push consumer prices exponentially higher and allow some producers to rake in government payments while others lose support entirely,” noted Zimmerman. 
Astonishingly, reverting to permanent law would disallow FSA and other USDA agencies from utilizing technology to assist producers. According to Roman Keeney, associate professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University, previous threats of a farm bill expiration had compelled one local FSA to prepare to collect farmer data by hand. 
Keeney offered the following assessment on what he thinks it will take to pass a 2023 Farm Bill before 2024: “The current political environment promises a complicated legislative calendar and successfully passing a farm bill is likely dependent on maintaining distance from the larger debate on partisan economic agendas. Successful compromise will likely depend on proponents of nutrition and farm safety programs making the case that farm bill budget savings are dependent on policies that drive broad-based economic growth and that the safety net spending in the farm bill can be a part of that growth agenda.”
Those interested in USDA’s updated shutdown contingency plan may view it at