On October 1, 2023, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 – more commonly known as the 2018 Farm Bill – expired. The expiration did not come as a surprise, as Congress’ timeline for reauthorizing the 2018 Farm Bill has been increasingly drawn out for a variety of reasons such that neither the House nor Senate Agriculture Committees have yet been ready to unveil their bills.
Observers of federal food and agriculture policy will be familiar with the oft-repeated albeit misleading message that the impacts of an expired farm bill don’t really kick in until January 2024, with the start of the new crop year. While it’s true that there are new and significant impacts beginning in the new year, the consequences of allowing the 2018 Farm Bill to expire without a replacement are already beginning to mount. Thankfully, in recent days Congress has begun to turn its attention toward a much-needed extension of the 2018 Farm Bill – discussed at the end of this post. Yet until an extension is passed, many essential programs will continue to be impacted.
There are three primary ways in which a program might be negatively impacted – or “stranded” – due to the expiration of the 2018 Farm Bill. First, a program may lack funding beyond October 1, 2023. Second, a program may lack the legal authority to continue operating beyond that same date absent a farm bill extension. And third, a program could have no funding and no legal authority. With this simple framework in mind, this blog post takes a deep dive into the current and potential future impacts of the expired 2018 Farm Bill by examining which programs are stranded, and what it means for food and agriculture.
Local and Regional Food Systems
Due to NSAC member advocacy during the 2018 Farm Bill, many local and regional food system programs will not see a significant interruption following the expiration of the 2018 Farm Bill on October 1, 2023.
While the 2023 Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) awards – including the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion, Regional Food System Partnership, and Value-Added Producer Grants – have not yet been announced, the review process has been well underway for months and we anticipate announcements will occur before the end of the year. Nevertheless, these initiatives that seek to develop new market opportunities for local farmers and food businesses could be impacted beginning in the FY2024 cycle. Despite permanent mandatory funding for LAMP, the authority for the grant program lapsed on October 1, 2023. Without an extension or reauthorization, the grant cycle may be interrupted.
Similarly, states should be able to finish Senior Farmers Market Nutrition (SFMNP) programming without interruptions for the remainder of the 2023 season. Many states operate their program seasonally, distributing vouchers or funds to senior citizens at the beginning of peak market seasons, giving some breathing room for Congress to reauthorize the program. However, SFMNP’s operations could be impacted in calendar year 2024 if there is a significant delay in a Farm Bill reauthorization or extension.
Conservation and Climate
USDA conservation programs will remain largely unaffected by the expiration of the Farm Bill. This is a direct result of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which invested in and reauthorized several conservation programs ahead of the full Farm Bill reauthorization. These programs are:
- The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)
- The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
- The Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (ACEP)
- Regional Conservation Program (RCPP)
Each of these programs has been reauthorized through 2031 and will continue to function without further action from Congress. The next Farm Bill may change or preserve this new authorization window, but only time will tell.
While much of the Farm Bill-funded conservation work will continue uninterrupted, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) will not. Administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA), CRP conserves and improves soil, protects water quality, and provides wildlife habitat by establishing long-term cover on highly erodible land or land in need of conservation buffers that has previously been in row crop production. In exchange for cost-share and rental payments, farmers remove environmentally sensitive land from production and plant resource-conserving land cover to protect soil, water, and wildlife habitat.
CRP’s statutory authorization ended along with the rest of the Farm Bill on September 30, and as such no new work can occur within that program without action from Congress. Effective as of October 1st:
- FSA will not approve CRP contracts for any signup types
- FSA will not process offers for enrollment in CRP for all signup types
- FSA will not authorize any CRP contract revisions or corrections
Contracts that were approved on or before September 30 will receive annual rental and cost-share payments, and signing incentive and practice incentive payments, as applicable.
Farmers interested in signing up for CSP and EQIP should check their state’s application ranking dates and contact their local service center to learn how and when to apply. For organizations interested in ACEP and RCPP, USDA recently announced changes and anticipated future grant making rounds.
Organics and Research
The programs highlighted so far lack the authority to operate, but do not lack funding authority – meaning that if their authority is extended, they will continue operating even without an additional infusion of funding. However, there are numerous notable programs that are currently stranded without funding. One such notable program is the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP). OCCSP does not have ‘permanent baseline’ funding and therefore without a provision that specifically offers continued funding and authorization for OCCSP, the cost share program will expire, leaving thousands of organic farmers with a huge net increase in their annual certification costs.
What this means on the ground is that FSA and some state Departments of Agriculture are currently accepting 2023 OCCSP applications using remaining 2018 Farm Bill funds. Farmers who apply for OCCSP by October 31 can still receive reimbursements even with the expiration of the 2018 Farm Bill. FSA generally announces the availability of cost share funding in April or May. Therefore, if Congress passes a Farm Bill before then with renewed funding, OCCSP should be able to operate without interruption in 2024. If, however, Congress does not include dedicated funding for OCCSP in a Farm Bill extension, this critical program will be unable to operate in 2024, unless and until a new Farm Bill is passed with new funding.
Unfortunately, OCCSP is not the only program without ‘permanent baseline’ beginning October 1, 2023. The Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives (ODI) and Scholarships for 1890s Institutions both lack permanent baseline, and will also need dedicated funding in any Farm Bill extension.
Due to NSAC member advocacy during the 2018 Farm Bill, the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Program (OREI) – like LAMP, described above – now has what is called ‘permanent baseline’ funding. This means that even if Congress extends the Farm Bill for another year, OREI is assumed to be part of that extension at its current funding level, which is $50 million annually. However, despite mandatory funding for the program, the authority for the grant program ends after 2023. Without an extension or reauthorization, the next grant cycle may be interrupted.
Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach
The Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) program, which is a combination of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development program (BFRDP) and the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (2501), was created in the 2018 Farm Bill in part to secure mandatory baseline funding for both 2501 and BFRDP. FY2023 grants for 2501 were just recently announced, with new BFRDP grants soon likely to follow. Despite mandatory funding for the program, the legal authority for the grant program lapsed on October 1, 2023. Therefore, like LAMP and OREI discussed above, absent an extension or reauthorization, the next grant cycle may be interrupted.
Farm Safety Net
By and large, the farm safety net – ranging from credit to crop insurance and commodity programs – will continue to operate with little interruption through the end of 2023.
The Federal Crop Insurance Program – which is permanently authorized and funded at such sums as necessary in perpetuity by Congress – will continue to function without interruption in the absence of a Farm Bill reauthorization or extension. Permanent disaster programs, including the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program and programs to support livestock and fruit tree producers, are also authorized to continue.
The Farm Bill also permanently authorizes USDA to make and guarantee loans, for which money is allocated by Congress in the annual appropriations process. Failure to reauthorize or extend the Farm Bill is not likely to impact the availability or servicing of farm loans.
Meanwhile, commodity programs – including the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) programs – will continue to function, but only for a short time. The government is obligated to make payments until the end of the 2023 crop’s marketing year, or a full 12 months post-harvest into 2024.
If the Farm Bill is not reauthorized or extended by January 1, 2024, commodity programs will begin to be replaced with “permanent law,” or non-expiring provisions established in the 1938 and 1949 Farm Bills. The first commodity to be impacted is dairy. Congress has maintained but suspended permanent law in each Farm Bill since the 1960s as a force-function to reauthorize the Farm Bill, lest the temporary suspension expire and force USDA to implement antiquated farm intervention programs.
Extending the 2018 Farm Bill
Already, the consequences of allowing the 2018 Farm Bill to expire without a replacement are mounting, and the longer Congress waits to act, the greater the negative impact will be. NSAC encourages lawmakers to remain focused on passing a strong, bipartisan farm bill as soon as possible. In the meantime, an extension of the 2018 Farm Bill – with extended programmatic authorities and full funding for programs without permanent baseline – is the most critical step we can take to support farmers, ranchers, and food system stakeholders throughout the country.
As Congress turns its attention toward the details of an extension, they must ensure that authority is extended for key programs such as LAMP and FOTO. Importantly, programs without permanent baseline – such as OCCSP, SFMNP, Scholarships for 1890’s, and ODI – must explicitly receive funding in any extension in order to continue to operate. And finally, any extension must also extend CRP’s authorization, as well an extension of payment limits within EQIP and CSP.