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Economist, consultant expect extension of farm bill

Two speakers at the Tri-State Grain Growers expect a year’s delay on negotiating a new farm bill, with the new legislation ultimately looking similar to the current one.
Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

Published on November 15, 2017 8:54AM

Last changed on November 15, 2017 8:57AM

SPOKANE — An economist and a consultant say they expect the current farm bill to be extended for a year, and farmers ultimately won’t see much change when new legislation passes.

Washington State University small grains economist Randy Fortenbery said he expects at least a year extension of the current farm bill.

Even with a new bill, Fortenbery said, the programs will likely be similar to the current farm bill.

Fortenbery expects some budget cuts, which will impact the redesign of the bill’s Agriculture Risk Coverage program, or ARC.

Issues will include whether switching between ARC and the Price Loss Coverage program will be allowed, or if those programs will even survive, Fortenbery said. Farm groups so far disagree on which changes should be made, Fortenbery said, adding that agriculture should present a unified voice to Congress.

ARC and PLC provide farmers with protection against market downturns, according to USDA. The individual or county ARC protects farmers against revenue drops either at the individual level or based on county prices and yields as published by USDA. PLC provides payments when the market year average price for an eligible commodity falls below the crop’s reference price in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Crop insurance will remain the primary safety net, Fortenbery said, but rates of return for insurers and participation restrictions may be on the table.

Economics research and training consultant Matt Roberts, founder of the Kernmantle Group, also expects a one-year extension with small changes, and then “the real bill” will be written in 2019 and will be a “relatively minor update” of the 2014 bill.

“We don’t have widespread dissatisfaction with the Farm Bill like we’ve had in some previous years,” he said. “There are some groups that are unhappy with it — cotton’s very unhappy, dairy’s very unhappy. Most others may not love it, but we’re generally not seeing hatred of it.”

Roberts said growers may also get the ability to switch from ARC into PLC crop insurance. He doesn’t expect the Conservation Reserve Program to expand, due to budget constraints.

Roberts predicted more political gridlock and continued regulatory relief for agriculture from the Trump administration in 2018.

But he said gridlock might not be such a negative, noting the economy has grown the fastest during the past 30 to 40 years in times of gridlock.

“I think the gridlock we are facing right now is actually a positive thing because it allows us to worry about our businesses and not worry about D.C. coming in and changing them,” he said. “In a permissive regulatory environment, where we’re not worrying about the rulemaking, it allows all businesses to plan.”

They spoke at last week’s Tri-State Grain Growers Convention.


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