Farm Bill Down To The Wire

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Racing against the clock to finalize a key piece of legislation before year’s end, farm bill negotiators are looking to finish up talks in the days ahead. The Senate returned to work on Monday with their House counterparts arriving yesterday to finish the lame duck session.

Areas of disagreement remain around items such as forest management, eligibility for commodity programs, as well as a key provision for the horticulture industry – funding of the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI).

The Senate version of the farm bill included a $25 million increase in overall funding for SCRI by moving a “citrus industry research carve-out” that Congress allowed in the last farm bill from the SCRI into a separate fund – allowing other specialty crops, including nursery and floriculture projects, to compete for the full $80 million allotted to the program.

House Republican negotiators are still questioning the additional SCRI funding and have not agreed to the Senate version despite the support of Senate Republicans and Democrats in both chambers. This could just be a negotiating tactic for other concessions — but will have to be settled one way or the other to get the bill done. The worst-case scenario is that SCRI will continue to be funded as it is currently.

As noted previously in Impact Washington, if negotiators are unable to reconcile differences then there would likely be an extension of the current farm bill — combined with the unfortunate reality that the process of developing a new farm bill would start anew in January.

If disagreements are worked out, things could move quickly. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) suggested recently that a compromise farm bill could be attached to a fiscal 2019 spending package, which must pass by December 7.

This week will be pivotal for these negotiations. AmericanHort will keep you updated on all the developments.

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