Farm Bill Expires: What Happens Now?

Photo courtesy USDAThe proposed 2008 Farm Bill expired on Sunday without finding renewal in Congress. This sounds potentially ruinous to farmers in the United States, but it's not quite as horrible as it looks at first glance.

This is not the first time that the Farm Bill, which is meant to renew every five or so years, has expired due to Congress ignoring it. The same thing happened in both 1996 and 2007. And as The Gazette in Iowa explains,

Congress has been passing agriculture legislation since 1916, and through a quirk in the law, the expiration of the current bill technically reverts the country to the 1949 farm bill. That version is obviously arcane, and will mandate the expiration of programs that have been developed in the 63 years since then.

However, modern-era farm bills were written to apply to crop years, not calendar years, so many programs won't expire until harvesting time in spring 2013, giving Congress roughly six more months to finish a bill. Dairy programs are an exception; they will expire on Dec. 31 of this year without congressional action.

In other words, some farmers will luck out, and some won't, but protections of some sort will remain in place for them all. And Congress still has time before anyone is affected at all. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) has issued a statement blaming Republicans for what she says is the inevitable increase in the price of milk due to the stalled bill. We'll see if her prediction comes true in six months.

Click here for a Farm Bill explainer.

Click here to learn why the bill was held up.

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About the Author

Katherine's role as the Living editor at KCET.org keeps her running from farms to markets to restaurants to pop-up swaps all over SoCal. She's been living in and writing about this area for over a decade.
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