Don't expect much to pass Congress before the November elections. And don't expect much after that.
That was the basic message that American Farm Bureau lobbyist Mary Kay Thatcher delivered to members of the Agribusiness Council of Sedgwick County during its monthly meeting on Aug. 12.
Thatcher said the House is scheduled to work only 12 days between now and the general election and the Senate will be in session only 15 days.
"Consider that they have yet to pass any one of the 12 appropriations bills that must pass before Oct. 1 to prevent a shutdown of the government and you can see that not much is going to get done," she said.
She told attendees at the meeting that the difficulty in passing a Farm Bill was frustrating but it now faces added problems in getting appropriations made to pay for provisions in the bill. There have already been challenges to crop insurance subsidies, which account for almost 60% of the spending directed toward actual farm programs.
Thatcher said it may be tempting to think of the work as done with the passage of the five-year bill; however, there is likely to be a battle over appropriations every year.
"It is just really hard to make the urban legislators understand why a safety net for farmers is essential," she said. "That is especially true in a time when commodity prices are high and farm profitability is up."
She said she understands farmers' frustration with having the legislation called the "Farm Bill" when 80% of it actually pays for nutrition programs such as food stamps and only 0.4% of the money is directed to programs that farmers use.
"At the same time, I don't think it would work to split the farm portion away from the nutrition portion," she said. "If that happens, I don't think there will ever be another Farm Bill passed."
Even as farm organizations such as Farm Bureau struggle to protect funding that farmers need, they also face challenges from other directions, she said.
Those include an ongoing battle to combat false information about biotechnology and genetically modified organisms and a struggle to protect farmers from sweeping new regulations that Farm Bureau and other organizations fear will result from EPA's pending Waters of the U.S. clarification of the Clean Water Act.