A series of upcoming workshops -- focusing on “farm bill reauthorization, federal crop insurance, environmental regulation, and other current legal and policy issues of direct interest to producers” according to the National Agricultural Law Center -- are set for Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas.

The first workshop will be held in Delhi, Louisiana, on Oct. 23. Additional workshops are currently scheduled for Clarksdale, Miss., on Nov. 1, and Stuttgart, Ark., on Nov. 6. Plans for late January workshops in Rohwer, Ark., and Kaiser, Ark., are being finalized.

How difficult is it to put a workshop agenda together because of the uncertainty around the farm bill?

“There is uncertainty,” says Harrison Pittman,Director of the law center.“Along with that, though, is a great deal of curiosity and frustration. That’s easy to detect across the spectrum. Statements by members of Congress show there’s bipartisan frustration about the inability to get a farm bill done before September 30.

“Yes, it is difficult to set the agenda. However, we’re really in a time of change in agriculture – particularly Southern agriculture. It’s a very serious time.”

Pittman says the law center can help people “navigate through this from a research and information standpoint. They can get no-spin input on where we’re realistically at with the farm bill. Where are the House and Senate versions similar? What are the likely changes?”

Crop insurance will “definitely” be a focus of the meetings. “The question is to what degree it will be expanded and modified. What will happen with the removal of direct payments and expansion of crop insurance? One thing to consider is how that will affect the relationship between lenders and producers, between farmers and the landowner.  

“We’ll do five or six workshops. The first will be in late October in Louisiana. Another will be in Mississippi, three in Arkansas and we may add more dates. As we go through those the presentations will evolve along with what happens in Congress.

“Regardless, we’ll provide a great starting point for participants with information they can trust and rely on. There will be plenty of time for the audience to ask questions.”

Looming over everything is the November elections and what will happen in the lame duck session.

“What will be the outcome in the House and Senate? Who will be in the White House?

“My view is that it’s more likely than not that something will be done on the farm bill in the lame duck session. Listening to the major agriculture groups nationwide there’s a strong general consensus that people want a comprehensive five-year farm bill.”

Once the elections take place “it’ll resolve part of the uncertainty. At least then we’ll know who controls Congress and the White House. Of course, the farm bill will still be wedged between expiring tax cuts and the sequestration passed a few months ago to deal with the debt ceiling.

“It’s a tight schedule. When Congress comes back for the lame duck session, the further we get into November without the farm bill being taken up the more it will be subject to the gravitational pull of the tax cuts, sequestration and the rest. We should get a pretty quick read on whether that will occur.”

The risk for agriculture, says Pittman, is if Congress simply extends the 2008 farm bill. “That would mean eventually starting over on writing a new farm bill with a lower budget baseline.”

For additional information or inquiries regarding the workshops, please contact Pittman at hmpittm@uark.edu or (479) 575-7640.