With the nine-month Farm Bill extension on the table, many farm groups and some legislators already have put in a call to action on a five-year Farm Bill in 2013.
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson says his group is no exception, and postulates that there will be continued efforts to push a five-year bill through the House and Senate prior to the expiration of the extension.
"I think the [Farm Bill] coalitions will remain and there will be a lot of work done. Folks will be a little bit wiser as to the political dynamics that we will be facing," Johnson said.
The biggest political dynamic that will be different in 2013? It's not an election year. At the height of the Farm Bill discussion, many speculated that Speaker of the House John Boehner refused to bring the bill to the floor mostly due to election-year concerns. Johnson says that while 2013 will take election issues off the table, a new case for concern may be the amount of money available to write the bill.
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson says they're ready for a 2013 bill
"The [fiscal environment] is going to make it a bit more difficult but I think the ag committees in both the Senate and the House really stepped up to the challenge, and they looked at the possibility of sequestration and what they offered were two bills that were going to cut 2 to 3 times what sequestration would have required. So, they will be able to meet the fiscal challenge with a lower budget," Johnson says.
Perhaps the biggest financial challenges, Johnson notes, are the nutrition title and an NFU priority issue, crop insurance.
"Crop insurance has emerged as the singular most important part of the safety net and as the most expensive component of the safety net. I expect that particularly given the money challenges in this farm bill, crop insurance is going to be something that we are going to have to watch very carefully," Johnson says.
As for the nutrition title, Johnson thinks it's a necessary component of the Farm Bill, and says its growth can be largely attributed to the economic downturn – more Americans in lower-paying jobs means more qualified applicants for nutrition assistance.
"The best way to cut the nutrition title is to grow the economy and start creating jobs. Then, those costs drop automatically," Johnson says, but he warns that cutting nutrition funding from the Farm bill won't do any good.
"If the nutrition title is removed from the farm bill it will be the death of farm bills going forward," he says.
The budget concerns with the 2013 Farm Bill will likely become clearer when the Congressional Budget Office releases a new baseline this spring, Johnson says, noting that most components of the 2012 bill will likely remain in a new bill.
Johnson thinks many of the Farm Bill priorities NFU adopted in 2012 will resurface, including a focus on price protection.
"Our members have long felt that the safety net in a farm bill should be constructed to cover two big eventualities: one is production losses, disasters. And the second one is the likelihood of long-term price collapse," Johnson says.
He adds that the House proposal on long-term price protection came very close to ideal for NFU, but the group will continue to work toward getting a bill passed that is in the interest of its members.