If a new farm bill is not enacted or the current farm bill is not extended for a period of time, the farm bill commodity programs revert to permanent law contained in the 1938 and 1949 farm bills. Each successive farm bill since that time has suspended permanent law for the period of time provided for the newly enacted farm bill. But the permanent law provision is scheduled to pop back up and become the law of the land again if Congress does not enact a new bill or extend current law.

This peculiar feature normally induces Congress to get its work done on each new farm bill in a timely fashion. Without a 2008 Farm Bill extension or a new farm bill, dairy policy reverts to permanent law on Jan. 1, and grain and other commodities do so once the new 2013 crop is ready for planting.

USDA’s job to get ready to implement the 1949 Act actually begins next week, though few expect the department to spend much time on the matter. Why? Because reverting to permanent law would re-introduce a radically different farm program, one with much higher support prices (through nonrecourse loans instead of payments) that would require much smaller crop production and much higher consumer prices. It would also leave out any mandatory coverage for soybeans and other oilseeds as well as peanuts and sugar. In other words, it is widely considered so extremely anachronistic as to be unworkable.

Still, as impossible as it is to imagine it going into effect, permanent law will be the law of the land unless Congress acts to agree on a new farm bill, extend the current farm bill, or suspend or repeal permanent law.