Guesswork is not the typical purview of economists — but predicting when the U.S. Congress will pass a farm bill and trying to evaluate the possibility of yet another farm bill extension has devolved in something of a guessing game, says Joe Outlaw, professor and Texas AgriLife Extension economist.

“My best guess is that Congress will get the farm bill done by the end of the fiscal year,” he said at the Concho Valley Cotton Conference at San Angelo. “Some think there is a possibility of another extension, but I doubt it — for now. That’s a guess, though.”

He hopes the bill is done this year. “I’ve been working with it for three years now. Another extension could be good for some farmers because they would receive another direct payment. It would be smaller, but it would be guaranteed. Last year, I’d have said the direct payment would be gone this year, but if we don’t get a farm bill this year, farmers will get it again.”

Farm programs will change, Outlaw says. “Agriculture policy will be different. Farmers will still have a safety net, but we have no expectation that the safety net will be as good as what we have now. We’re moving toward a program where crop insurance is the risk management tool. Insurance coverage doesn’t have a floor. Farm bills like we used to have are over.”

A lot of those in Washington see “no reason why farmers should have a safety net,” he says. Those who don’t like agriculture will come after the direct payment and crop insurance — that’s what they talk about cutting.”

The delay has already had an impact, he says. The estimated savings included in both House and Senate proposals has already been reduced as conditions and baselines have changed. The House bill, which estimated $35 billion in savings is now down to $26 billion. The Senate bill, which earlier this year purported to save $23 billion, is now down to just $13 billion in savings.”

Both proposals, especially the Senate, may need to go back to the drawing board. But Outlaw expects the bills offered by each house will be similar to those already worked up.