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Shutdown or Not, Farm Bill Extension Expires on Oct. 1

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
Pryor said he is worried that his state’s county extension service could be affected if Congress does not approve an extension for the farm bill.

One thing’s certain on Oct. 1: Congress will have allowed the nine-month extension of the 2008 farm bill to expire.

Added to that, in a sort of one-two punch, the Agriculture Department could be faced with shutting down operations that same day, should Congress fail to reach agreement on a stopgap spending bill. USDA officials were tight-lipped Tuesday about any contingency plans, although one key Democratic senator voiced concerns about the impact on the agency.

“No doubt it is going to hurt a lot of their efforts to continue to have a vibrant agriculture economy here in this country. I hope we don’t get there, but it looks as though we are headed in that direction,” said Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

There’s no farm bill because Congress has not yet been able to agree on a new measure, with the next expected step a procedural move to merge the Senate farm bill (S 954), the House agriculture-only farm bill (HR 2642) and the House nutrition bill (HR 3102). That action must be taken before Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, can appoint conferees to a farm bill conference committee; it’s expected that the merger measure could be folded into another rule later this week.

And there’s no sign yet of whether a government shutdown will be the outcome of the battle over a House-passed stopgap funding measure (H J Res 59) that would withhold money from the 2010 health care law.

But shutdown or not, the farm bill will expire Oct. 1, and the impact will be staggered. The most significant effect of the extension’s expiration won’t happen until Jan. 1, when the Agriculture Department would be required to start taking steps under permanent law to force up milk prices, the “dairy cliff.”

If Congress does not extend 2008 law or address the issue in some way before the first of the year, the cost of dairy price supports at that point would double, raising the possibility that milk prices eventually could increase to $8 a gallon.

Still, a number of USDA programs would lose funding Oct. 1, the start of the federal fiscal year.

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