Academic journal article Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics

The Coming Tug of War: Forces Moving the 2007 Farm Bill

Academic journal article Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics

The Coming Tug of War: Forces Moving the 2007 Farm Bill

Article excerpt

The main forces of trade agreements and budgets will certainly play a strong role in driving the 2007 farm bill debate. Other factors ranging from the political makeup of Congress to the growing level of rhetoric calling for reform, from the cost-price squeeze facing producers to the emergence of nonprogram commodities at the table will also play, at this time, uncertain roles in the development of the final legislation. These various forces and factors are assessed and projections as to the final outcome of the debate hesitatingly provided.

JEL number: Q18

Introduction

The level of intellectual engagement on the upcoming farm bill seems to have stepped up a notch or two from some of the last few efforts. Conferences are being held, speeches given (like this one), papers being written, all focused on one issue or another in the legislative debate. The purpose of this paper is to examine one of the fundamental questions about whether the upcoming bill will, at the end of the day, reflect essentially the provisions of the current program structure or whether there will be major program reform. In developing the conclusions, the paper will examine a number of the forces at work, forces for and against movement from the current structure as well as some just plain forces.

Before getting into whether the force will be with us or not, it is probably appropriate to spend some time discussing the time line for the farm bill development. In the past year, the administration has conducted numerous farm bill listening sessions, literally all over the country. They have served to provide the administration with a great deal of background information upon which to draw for any legislative proposals they might make. Originally suggesting that they would actually submit a proposed bill, current discussion suggests they may be leaning more toward a concept document as opposed to actual legislation. Regardless of the form in which the administration makes its feelings known, it is likely the administration will be much more active in this legislative effort than was the case for the 2002 bill. Given the differences in personnel at some of the higher levels of the Department of Agriculture, they are expected to be much more of a player than in any of the last several bills.

Ultimately, however, farm bills are written by Congress. Between now and the time the current legislation expires a midterm election will take place. This election will place every House seat up for a vote and a third of the Senate. This election process also places a significant limit on the number of legislative days Congress has to act before the end of the 109th Congress. The House Agriculture Committee has already engaged in a series of hearings prior to the development of the new bill; the Senate will likely follow. While not clear, it does seem that the major forces that would actually drive writing legislation this year are limited at best. There is nothing on the legislative calendar that says they must write a new farm bill this year, and past history certainly suggests Congress only completes work on a farm bill when it is absolutely necessary-i.e., well after the winter wheat crop is in the ground, but before spring planting usually begins.

This suggests the new farm bill debate begins in earnest with the start of the 110th Congress and that Congress completes action either late in 2007 or early 2008. Making this kind of prediction 12 to 18 months ahead is at least as hard as predicting soybean prices for the same time lead.

Forces for Change

Others would give a longer list or might include some of the "just plain forces" items in this category, but for discussion purposes, the three considered here as moving us toward change are: budget, trade agreements and negotiations, and intellectual bias.

Budget

Referred to by some as taxpayer revolt, but others as a means of controlling the size of government, and still others as a weakening of public sentiment for farm programs, the ultimate expression is in the form of limits on federal spending on agricultural programs. …

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