January 30, 2017

What the Next Farm Bill Looks Like for Dairy

 |  By: Mike Opperman

With Sonny Perdue likely to be approved as the new Agriculture Secretary attention now turns to an important part of his tenure, the next Farm Bill. Whether a new Farm Bill happens this year (unlikely) or next (hopefully), dairy provisions within the bill will be significant for the industry. Panelists talked about what the next Farm Bill might look like at the Dairy Forum, the International Dairy Foods Association annual meeting.

"We tend to put together a Farm Bill backwards, starting with a budget and then making things fit rather than identifying needed programs and finding funds to make them work,” says Krysta Harden, a former Obama administration ag adviser and current vice president, public policy and chief sustainability officer with DuPont. She says there is also an interesting mix of new legislators who don’t understand the value of farm policy and seasoned leaders who do. “It won’t be easy to get put together and it will take a lot of heavy lifting to get it done.”

One thing that will likely be different with this Farm Bill is the risk management aspects around dairy, specifically the Margin Protection Program (MPP). “The last Farm Bill was all about risk management, and that brought us the MPP,” says Randy Russell, president of the Russel Group. “That program hasn’t worked as intended and dairy needs to work with legislators to find a solution.”

Another element that will have a greater impact on the next Farm Bill is the influence of consumers. Their greater engagement in understanding where food comes from translates to a bigger role in affecting policy. Harden says that while some consumers just want to be heard, “it becomes dangerous when some position themselves as experts and they don’t understand the value of safety nets.”

Of particular to concern to consumers are the nutrition programs that have made up a majority of the budget dollars within past Farm Bills. Russell says that it’s not likely those programs will be split out of the next Bill, especially the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), because so many districts are urban areas that rely on those funds. “SNAP needs to be part of the next Farm Bill to get it to pass.”

Asked about whether an extension to the existing Farm Bill will happen, Dale Moore, executive director of public policy with the American Farm Bureau Federation says “an extension would be simple but there’s things that need to change that are difficult to do in an extension.”

Harden says there’s growing pressure on Congress to have a Farm Bill done in 2017, but it’s “almost a longshot” to get it done in 2018.