The top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee suggested Friday Congress should move a one-year extension of the 2018 farm bill as soon as November to give lawmakers more time to write a new farm bill.

“I'd like to get the extension in, probably have a year extension, not that it's going to take that long” to finish a new farm bill, Arkansas Sen. John Boozman said during a listening session in Missouri that was sponsored by Missouri Farm Bureau and Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Mo.

He told reporters an extension could be included in a stopgap spending bill that Congress will need to pass before the continuing resolution that is currently funding the government expires Nov. 17. 

“We’re in the process of getting things on paper to …. find a path forward” on an extension, Boozman said. 

He insisted it was possible to move a new farm bill before the end of the year. “On the other hand, if it slips, we want to make it such that it does not impact our producers at all by making sure that we have the legislation in place that allows us to continue on, essentially with the same farm bill that we’ve got right now,” he said. 

Unless Congress passes a new farm bill by Jan. 1 or an extension of the 2018 farm bill, laws dating back to 1938 and 1949 will be triggered, forcing USDA to take steps next year to dramatically raise the price of milk, wheat and other commodities. The 1938 and 1949 provisions are collectively known as “permanent law” and have been left on the books to ensure Congress either passes a new farm bill or extends the expiring legislation.

USDA would be required under permanent law to start buying up enough milk, butter and other products to maintain dairy prices at 75% to 90% of the “parity price,” a level in line with where milk prices happened to be in 1910-1914. 

Action on a new farm bill has been stalled in the House because of the turmoil in the speakership and the uncertainty about funding the government. In addition, both the House and Senate Agriculture committees have yet to agree on key provisions of a new legislation, including revisions to the commodity title that farm groups want. 

Boozman said he didn’t know when the Senate Ag committee would have a draft farm bill ready.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., insisted in an interview with Agri-Pulse on Friday that it’s too soon to consider an extension. 

“I don't think we have to really have the conversation on it until we get in closer to … to Jan. 1,” which is when the existing dairy program expires, Thompson said. “We’re still in October.” 

He conceded, however, that an extension will eventually be necessary, if the House and Senate can’t finish a farm bill this year, a virtual impossibility given how little time there is left in the year and the inability of the speaker-less House to even conduct legislative business. 

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The House Ag Committee still has considerable work to do on its bill.

Thompson said the committee is still waiting on cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office to decide what to do about the commodity programs. And committee Republicans are still searching for ways to pay for various new provisions. Republicans recently presented Democrats with a list of $60 billion in possible measures to fund new provisions or program modifications. 

The list includes many ideas that have previously been made public, including bringing into the farm bill $15 billion in conservation program funding that was passed as part of the Inflation Reduction Act, Thompson said. 

Also included were provisions to restrict USDA’s use of the Commodity Credit Corporation account and limit increases in the cost of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by restricting the way USDA updates the Thrifty Food Plan, the economic model used to determine the size of SNAP benefits. 

Thompson said Republicans are looking for still more sources of money, “knowing full well we’re not going to get some of that or much of it,” Thompson said. 

Politico reported Friday that the Ag Committee’s ranking member, David Scott of Georgia, had presented the list to the panel’s Democrats in a recent meeting. 

“Updating Democratic members about the latest proposals from Republicans during farm bill negotiations is part of his job,” said Scott spokesman Britton Burdick. 

“While the ranking member thought rank-and-file members would oppose the most recent proposal, he thought it was important to share it with members nonetheless, considering that Republican leadership appear to have ruled out providing any new funding for the farm bill.”

 Committee member Jim McGovern, D-Mass., declined to discuss the GOP ideas. “We're talking amongst ourselves, and we're going to have a united position about what we feel about some of the Republican suggestions,” McGovern told Agri-Pulse.

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