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Farm News & Views for the week of October 2, 2023

Since the U.S. House and Senate have kicked the government funding can down the road for the next six or seven weeks, maybe both branches of congress will have time to finish crafting a new farm bill before the end of this year, but even though the House and Senate Agriculture committees have been working over the past year to get input on the new farm bill, with dozens of hearings, field hearings, listening sessions, and staff meetings, neither the house or senate have put forward legislation at the committee level, and staff members say they’re still divided on some of the big-ticket items in the bill. The reason that the 2023 Bill is taking so long to get crafted is that there were 12 titles or chapters in the 2018 Bill, which authorized spending $428 billion over its 5-year lifespan. But nutrition programs, often called food stamps, and other programs that provide nutrition for disadvantaged folks, accounted for over about 75% of the total cost, which leaves a lot of room for wrangling over who should or should not be eligible to get some of the bucks with the 2023 Bill. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the tab for the 2023 Bill may be over one and a half trillion dollars over ten years, with farm programs costing $375 billion, while the remaining 1.1 trillion dollars will go to funding supplemental nutrition programs. Republican and Democratic staff from both the House and Senate say that both sides want to find a bill that will support farms and farmers, but there is still significant disagreement about major programs, including the “safety net” of payments to farmers, crop insurance, and conservation programs. These issues may take a lot of time to work out considering that level of discord between some House Republicans members and the normal wrangling the goes on between Republican and Democratic members of the House.

While the agricultural economy has been good lately, the September Ag Economists Monthly Monitor points out some potential stumbling blocks for the U.S. agricultural sector in the future. They include lower commodity prices, concerns about demand for some commodities and a negative outlook for China’s economy. but Pat Westhoff, director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri is concerned about lower prices for some of the major commodities, such as corn, higher interest rates and a general negative outlook about the future of demand for U.S. agricultural products due to declining agricultural exports as a result of increased competition from South America. On the positive side the Monitor points to a shrinking cattle herd that may improve profitability for cattle producers and smaller U.S. corn and soybean crops.

Bob has been an agricultural educator and farm and ranch management consultant for over 40 years in southwest Colorado. He writes about agricultural issues from his farm near Cortez, and has helped to produce farm reports on KSJD for more than a dozen years.