Although the mid-term election results aren't final, House Republicans may have at best a very thin majority in the next Congress to pass a farm bill that will be a high priority for many in the party's rural base. 

Former North Dakota Democrat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp says Republicans have more to lose than Democrats, if they don’t pass a new farm bill. Programs in the 2018 farm bill begin expiring in September 2023. 

“Republicans have a much greater interest in getting a farm bill done, if the House Republicans take over the House and they can’t pass a farm bill,” she said during a post-election webinar hosted by Agri-Pulse.  “That’s a messaging and talking point for Democratic challengers.”

During a webinar hosted by the North American Agricultural Journalists, former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and lobbyist Randy Russell, president of the Russell Group, said they are optimistic about a bipartisan farm bill. 

Russell said the words “‘easy’ and ‘farm bill’ should never be used in the same sentence” but the current makeup that will need to eventually get bipartisanship “creates a pathway that one could see as a glide path to get the bill done, and potentially get it done on time.”

Peterson said the anticipated narrow margin in the House may help bring together the bipartisanship needed to advance a farm bill across the finish line. With his experience as the top Democrat during farm bills that have been defeated on the floor and even vetoed by the president, he hopes legislators will “learn from some of the lessons of the past.”

Peterson said his advice to Glenn "GT" Thompson, the top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, and House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy is to figure out what the Democrats need to offer their support for the farm bill and make that agreement before the farm bill process even starts. 

Michael Torrey, founder and principal of the Torrey Advisory Group, noted in recent farm bills Republicans have forged ahead on splitting the nutrition title out of the farm bill and allowed Republican-only votes for approval. Speaking on the Agri-Pulse webinar, Torrey thinks the GOP House leadership will likely try to pass a farm bill with only Republican votes, which they’ve done during the last couple of farms bills.

“The question then becomes what kind of farm bill are the Republicans going to need to get out of the House,” which could be starkly different than what could advance in the Senate or make its way out of conference committee, he said. 

In any case, members of the Senate Agriculture will likely work to get a bipartisan bill, no matter which party controls that chamber, Torrey said.

Heitkamp said, “You can't pass a farm bill unless you get a compromise on nutrition,” she said whether it's SNAP, school nutrition, and she anticipates a big push for free hot lunches.

Heitkamp said her advice to commodity groups is to “just try and put your ideology and your partisanship aside and think about where compromise can really provide an opportunity for you to get the systems that you need” she said, whether that is increasing export supports, additional research dollars, or dealing with new challenges as it relates to weather or climate. 

Peterson said he believes the biggest barrier to passing a farm bill will be the nutrition title. Another potential stumbling block will be climate funding, “because the Republicans are not wild about this” and there are some Democrats who want to push it.