Dairy farming is an important industry in the U.S. Negotiating a bigger market share for U.S. dairy products in Canada was one of the top U.S. priorities for the newly approved trade deal between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, and the final language on dairy in the USMCA is considered a win for U.S. dairy farmers. Unfortunately, this week U.S. dairy farmers also suffered a potentially big setback to international sales. Funding for the Foreign Market Development Program (FMDP), which promotes U.S. dairy and dozens of other U.S. agricultural products in international markets, expired on September 30 when Congress failed to pass a new Farm Bill.
The Farm Bill has been in turmoil for months, but it was hoped that Congress would find a last minute compromise and get a version passed before dozens of food and agricultural programs had their funding expire yesterday. However, because the House version was passed with the support of the Republican majority only, and the Senate version had to have bi-partisan approval to get through, the two chambers ended up with wildly different bills. In the end they weren’t able to reach a compromise in time and the previous Farm Bill expired.
Because the Farm Bill is such a huge omnibus bill it covers billions in spending on many different programs, and these are affected in different ways. Two of the biggest things that the Farm Bill deals with are the Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP) and agricultural subsidies. Both of these programs have funding sources that are appropriated from outside the Farm Bill so they won’t stop functioning right now. But they could change depending on what version ends up getting passed eventually. The Senate version of the bill did not make any major changes to SNAP; the House version on the other hand seeks to impose stricter work requirements for SNAP that would likely make a few million current users ineligible. Similarly, the Senate version didn’t have any big agricultural subsidy adjustments, while the House version would have eliminated the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Over 70 million of acres of land are part of the CSP and the USDA describes it as “the largest conservation program in the U.S.”
Many other programs, most of which weren’t even points of contention in negotiations, will be impacted by the failure to pass a new farm bill before the old one expired. Some programs will now revert back to how they were administered under the last permanent Farm Bills, which were passed in 1938 and 1949. Others technically don’t exist now that 2014 bill is no longer in effect, and still others will continue to exist but not have any operating budget. All of these programs, and the farmers, businesses, industries, and individuals that use and work with them will now have to wait in a state of limbo to see if the lame duck Congress can get a Farm Bill passed after the November elections, and what kind of funding and other changes it will include.
In addition to the FMDP some of the other programs that are currently without funding involve support for military veteran farmers and ranchers, new farmers and ranchers, and urban farming, funding for organic agriculture, agricultural research programs, bioenergy, and more. Some of these seem like niche programs that are important to very specific industries, and many Americans who aren’t in these industries may not feel the impact of the expired Farm Bill right away. But because of the size and scope of the Farm Bill, on some level it impacts basically everyone in the U.S. who eats food.