Farm Bill expiration puts 39 programs in limbo

Expiration of the 2014 Farm Bill has orphaned 39 programs, leaving them bereft of funding.

Those programs span 10 of the 12 farm bill titles and support conservation, bioenergy, rural development, research, nutrition, organic agriculture, farmers’ markets, trade promotion and beginning, military veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers. Because they received mandatory funding of $50 million or less, they don’t have baseline funding beyond Sept. 30, when the federal government’s fiscal year ended.

Mandatory spending on those programs over the course of the five-year farm bill was about $2.8 billion — accounting for 0.6 percent of the $489 billion in total mandatory costs and 2.5 percent of the total excluding nutrition programs, according to the Congressional Research Service.

“While this total may be a relatively small fraction of total farm bill spending, the effect may be particularly important to specific farm bill titles and to the programs’ beneficiaries,” CRS analysts said.

The nonprofit Center for Rural Affairs agrees and is most concerned with about 10 of those sidelined programs, Anna Johnson, policy manager with the center, told Capital Press.

But there are four major conservation programs not on the orphaned list that are also stranded, she said.

“They have funding, but authorization has run out. Even though the money is there, they’re (USDA) not allowed to run the programs,” she said.

Those programs are the Conservation Stewardship Program, Conservation Reserve Program, Regional Conservation Partnership Program and Agricultural Easement Program, she said.

With the beginning of a new fiscal year, conservation programs would normally be ramping up for new contracts, but USDA has to sit on its hands. It has no authority for new contracts, she said.

But it’s not just conservation programs that are being sidelined, she said.

“Many programs that support rural vitality are being left behind with the farm bill expiration,” she said.

Uncertainty abounds due to depressed commodity prices for many years, and lack of a farm bill creates additional uncertainty, she said.

“The farm bill is getting left on the wayside, and that’s irresponsible,” she said.

The Center for Rural Affairs wants a farm bill as soon as possible and also wants Congress to pass a farm bill extension quickly to fully fund and authorize all of the programs, she said.

Wheat, corn and soybean growers are particularly concerned with a lapse in the Foreign Market Development Program, another of the 39 orphaned programs.

That program is fundamental in U.S. Wheat Associates work to promote U.S. wheat around the world, Vince Peterson, USW president, said in a press release.

“We use FMD funding to cover salaries of more than 40 non-American employees and expenses for 14 overseas offices,” he said.

Without FMD funding, USW will have to cover costs incurred by shifting funds away from its activities or by using reserves from producer funds, he said.

“That is a short-term bridge we have used in the past. But it is not sustainable for more than several months. Beyond that, we would have to start cutting activities and eventually closing offices,” he said.

Loss of FMD funding comes at a particularly bad time as export markets have been hit hard by retaliatory tariffs by China and Mexico, he said.

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