WASHINGTON — Time is running out for Congress to reauthorize a massive agriculture and nutrition spending package known as the farm bill. But top Senate leaders are already bracing for lawmakers to strike a deal well after its deadline next month.

What You Need To Know

  • The farm bill is an agriculture and nutrition policy omnibus that Congress reauthorizes every five years

  • Rep. Derrick Van Orden, R-Prairie du Chien, said the House Agriculture Committee has submitted their version of the bill and it is currently awaiting approval from the Appropriations Committee

  • Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said there isn’t a timeline for when the Senate version of the bill will be finalized but is hoping to pass the bill before the end of the year

Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told Kentucky Farm Bureau the bill will be late but said lawmakers will “figure it out.” Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, also downplayed the need for Congress to act urgently, pointing out lawmakers failed to timely pass the bill in 2018 as well. 

“The committee is continuing to work toward a bipartisan bill that can be signed into law by the end of the calendar year,” Stabenow wrote in a statement. 

While major programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can continue to operate, programs that rely on mandatory funding authorizations through the spending package could take a massive hit, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS). The CRS outlined the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Grant program and the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative are among many that could lose funding immediately.

Rep. GT Thompson, R-Penn., the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, admitted there’s no way this massive package can be signed into law before Sept. 30.

“We’re probably going to need an extension,” Thompson said during a committee field hearing in Missouri this month.

This year his panel has been plowing through listening sessions with stakeholders all across the country, getting their input on what should be included in the updated version of the bill. This month the committee held a hearing in La Crosse, Rep. Derrick Van Orden’s congressional district.

“We got our stuff done and now [the farm bill] is in the Appropriations Committee,” Van Orden said.

A family emergency prevented Van Orden from attending the Wisconsin meeting in person, but he joined virtually to underscore his priorities for the Ag omnibus.

“Inflation is skyrocketing, which makes all of the input costs accelerate for agriculture,” he said. “That means the fuel that [farmers] are paying to run the tractors that feed the fertilizer land itself is raising and interest rates are up.”

Van Orden is also part of a working group within the panel to study industry-wide labor shortages. He’s calling for a fix to the H-1A visa program that would allow migrant farmworkers to work in the U.S. year round.

“If immigrant labor stops tomorrow in America, the agriculture industry will stop immediately, the hospitality industry will stop immediately, and the construction industry will stop,” Van Orden said. “So we have to come to terms with the fact that we need immigrant labor here in the United States to keep our businesses going.”