What does the Farm Bill extension mean for Indian Country? Q&A with IFAI’s Kristiana Coutu

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After a couple of tumultuous months, the Farm Bill is officially extended. In mid-November, just before Congress left town for the holiday break, the House and Senate agreed to a one-year extension of the current Farm Bill with a new expiration date of Sept. 30, 2024.   

The 2018 Farm Bill, The Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, expired on Sept. 30, 2023, and since that time, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and producers have been operating without certainty of whether programs authorized and funded in the Farm Bill would continue.   

The November xtension, at the minimum, provides short-term certainty, although industry groups are anxious for new Farm Bill negotiations to begin. An extension does not mean that lawmakers need to wait until September 2024 to enact a new farm bill.  They could enact one at any time and several have indicated Spring 2024 as the goal.  

Interested in the legislative details? Here is a recap: 

The Farm Bill extension is included in the Further Continuing Appropriations and Other Extensions Act, 2024 initiated in HR 6363 passed by the House of Representatives on Nov. 14, the Senate on Nov. 15, and signed into law by President Biden on Nov.16 as Public Law No: 118-22.  

As its name suggests, the Further Continuing Appropriations and Other Extensions Act, 2024 includes more than a Farm Bill extension, it also includes an extension of appropriations which prevented a government shutdown due to expiring appropriations legislation. 

The new law extends agency appropriations funding in a staggered approach.  Extended until Jan 19, 2024, are: Agriculture, Energy-Water, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (VA) and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Extended until Feb 2, 2024, are the remaining eight funding bills.   

The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative serves as the Native Farm Bill Coalition’s research partner. IFAI’s Director of Policy, Research, and Tribal Governance, Kristiana Coutu, helps breakdown common questions regarding the current Farm Bill process. 

What does an extension of the Farm Bill actually mean? 

It means that for the most part, USDA can continue to operate farm programs under the provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill.  It extended 20 out of 21 programs that are often referred to as “orphan programs.” Unlike some of the more permanent programs that may continue even after Farm Bill expirations, as long as appropriations are intact, orphan programs cannot. Commodity Program Implementation, Grassroots Source Water Protection Program, Feral Swine Eradication and Control Pilot, Urban Agriculture and the National Organic Certification Cost-share were some of the extended orphan programs. The Biorefinery Assistance Program is the one orphan program that was not extended. 

If the 2018 Farm Bill expired on Sept. 30 and wasn’t extended until mid-November, how did USDA keep operating and providing program services? 

While the Farm Bill authorizes many USDA programs, USDA’s operating funding comes from appropriations bills. In addition, the Farm Bill includes some permanently authorized programs. There are also programs that have funding through a date that goes beyond the Farm Bill. For example, crop insurance is a permanent program that the Farm Bill expiration will not impact. On the other hand, most commodity assistance programs will be impacted once the marketing year for those crops concludes.   

How is a farm bill extension different than a new Farm Bill? 

A Farm Bill extension, such as the most recent extension included in the Further Continuing Appropriations and Other Extensions Act, 2024, extends the last Farm Bill without much change.  A new Farm Bill is a whole new set of laws that Congress agrees to. While policymakers may include many Farm Bill programs traditionally, that does not mean Congress will decide the next legislation includes all of the same programs. 

How do appropriations and a potential government shutdown relate to the Farm Bill?  

Because the Farm Bill expired while appropriations funding was set to expire, commentators often discuss the two in tandem. While they are related and somewhat intertwined, the Farm Bill and appropriations bills are two very different things.  

A government shutdown results because Congress cannot agree to the federal budget appropriations. This leaves the government without operating funds.   

The appropriations bills also fund some of the programs that are authorized in the Farm Bill, so without appropriations, programs that are technically still in existence do not have funding to keep operating. Therefore, a government shutdown impacts producers in two ways: one it cuts funding for some programs, and two, even programs with funding may be operating based on a skeleton crew of USDA employees so programs may stop operating because there is not any staff to do the work, or at a minimum, they may be significantly slowed down.  

Stay updated on the latest marker bills on IFAI’s Farm Bill tracker, and learn more about the Native Farm Bill Coalition at nativefarmbill.com.