Capitol Report: House Version of Farm Bill Could Come in April

U.S. flag flies outside Capitol Building
27 Mar 2024

After numerous threats of a federal government shutdown since the end of last September, Congress finally passed the last of the Fiscal Year 2024 appropriations bills on March 22. The package included six bills that will fund the federal government for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends on September 30, 2024. To get the bill across the finish line, leaders in the House of Representatives used a suspension of the rules process, which requires a two-thirds majority vote for a bill to pass. The final vote totals in the House were 286 members in favor and 134 members against. The Senate followed suit by passing the bill 74-24.

There is hope Congress will now have more time to address the Farm Bill. AgCountry Market VP Nicole Erickson and I participated with former chair of the House Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson, and the Midwest Council on Agriculture (MWCA) in a Washington, D.C. fly-in March 20-22.  The trip provided an opportunity to meet with House Agriculture Committee Chairman G.T. Thompson, as well as other members of Congress.

Chairman Thompson said the House Agriculture Committee leadership has reached agreement on a bipartisan Farm Bill and he would like to introduce it in committee after the Easter break. Chairman Thompson believes the bill has everything that both the Republicans and the Democrats want in a Farm Bill. There could be some disagreement yet on how the changes will be funded. The Chairman did not provide any information on what the changes were or the funding mechanism. He later met with House Agriculture Committee Republicans in the morning and Democrats that afternoon to review the bill.

We then met with the Senate Agriculture Committee Majority staff to hear about their progress on the bill. The main takeaway from the meeting was that Chairwoman Stabenow remains steady on her insistence that neither conservation nor nutrition money will be used to fund other parts of the Farm Bill. She recently stated that enhancements to one title of the Farm Bill have not historically been funded by cuts to another title of the bill. 

Chairwoman Stabenow has proposed increasing the premium support on area yield insurance plans, making them more affordable. Her proposal would increase the premium subsidy on the Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO) and/or the Enhanced Coverage Option (ECO) to 80%. SCO currently has a 65% premium subsidy and ECO has 44% premium subsidy. This would significantly lower the premium cost to the farmer. 

The Committee staff clarified that if a farmer chose the higher subsidized insurance supplement, they would not be eligible for the Title I programs of Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) or Price Loss Coverage (PLC). If a farmer wanted ARC or PLC, they could still use ECO or SCO, but at the lower subsidy premium rate. Our group emphasized the need to make the individual yield plans more affordable, allowing farmers the opportunity to purchase the higher coverage levels of 80% and 85%. 

The MWCA members had several meetings with other Agriculture Committee members and staff throughout the trip. The group encouraged action this spring on the Farm Bill, improvements to crop insurance and farm programs, updating reference prices, increased funding for research and trade, and the need to make improvements in the agriculture labor visa programs to address the labor shortage across rural America.

The big question remains: When will the new Farm Bill get passed? Chairman Thompson would like to introduce a Farm Bill reauthorization in April and have it passed through the House in May. Will the Senate be ready to move on their version of the bill by that time? If the Farm Bill is not completed in May, there is little chance of it getting done before the election in November. It is possible they pick it up again in the lame duck session after the election and before the end of the year. The current extension of the bill expires on September 30, 2024. Congress could delay extending it again, but if work is not completed by the end of the year, they will have to pass another extension, probably to September 30, 2025.

Howard Olson
Written By: Howard Olson
SVP Government and Public Affairs