Many in American agriculture communities watched in disbelief as the House of Representatives narrowly passed a farm-only farm bill. As a reporter, my only goal that very day was to find out what in the world was going on inside the beltway as the tone of bringing this type of bill to the floor gained traction with growing support from Congressmen and women and then some ag groups. My initial thought was to call Dr. Carl Zulauf, a professor at The Ohio State University. He has always been well versed on ag policy. I knew what was going on in Washington was befuddling when Dr. Zulauf was at a loss for words as Representatives battled out feverishly for and against the separation of farm and nutrition policies.
The very next day I received an email from Dr. Zulauf that after some thought he had some observations on where the farm bill process might go from here, and I was quick to give my “farm bill sensei” a call as this grasshopper was eager to hear his thoughts.
Dr. Zulauf’s analysis is that there are 4 possibilities as the House and Senate versions meet in a conference committee to try and hash out new farm law.
Scenario #1 – The committee can pass a conference bill for the House and Senate to vote on and if passed that combined bill would become the new farm law.
Scenario #2 – The conferees are not able to reach an agreement using the two versions of the farm bill and another 1-year extension would take place, very similar to what happened last year.
Scenario #3 – The conferees are not able to reach an agreement using the two versions passed by each chamber, a 1-year extension takes place, but in a modified form. For example, the extension might include a cut in direct payments.
Scenario #4 – The conferees cannot come to an agreement combining the two versions and end up revoking permanent law and therefore raising the question of if we will ever have another farm bill.
Dr. Zulauf doesn’t think that the last scenario has a high probability but believes it is a possible outcome. He stresses that just because the House version separates farm and nutrition policies, the bill that comes out of conference may still very well have a combination of the two policies for Congress to consider.
While the conference committee works on putting a farm bill together over the next few weeks, Dr. Zulauf does believe that what happened in the House will cause many to pose the question of whether a farm bill can exist without a nutrition title. Zulauf believes it would be an uphill battle simply because of the population distribution in America. Would a farm-only farm bill speak enough to urban constituencies? The answer to that question may share the answer to the first one.