Last month Senate and House conferees working on the 2018 Farm Bill failed to reach an agreement before the old farm bill expired and without Congress voting to extend it.

Congress has once again let down American farmers and ranchers who need to know the extent of farm programs when making plans for next year’s crop. It is impossible for those in agriculture to plan for the next season without knowing how the federal government intends to impact their business.

This has happened all too often before.

The 2014 Farm Bill was supposed to be the 2012 Farm Bill. It took more than three years to negotiate, despite original promises in 2011 that it would be passed before the 2012 presidential primary season. In reality, constant wrangling over the cost of nutrition programs and crop insurance subsidies mandated that the old 2008 bill be extended a number of times before Congress came up with a bill it could pass.

Each farm bill has many parts. Some programs, such as commodity and nutrition programs, were created under separate legislation. The farm bill provides funding for these programs and provides governing language that for the life of the bill supersedes the “permanent” legislation. The farm bill also creates new programs not included in any other legislation.

So in establishing an expiration date on the farm bill, Congress puts a gun to its own head. Commodity programs revert to “permanent” law written in the ’30s and ’40s should it fail to enact a measure to replace or extend the expiring farm bill. Other programs die altogether.

The permanent laws are so antiquated they have little relevance to modern agriculture. Trying to apply them in the 21st century should create consequences too dire for Congress to ignore its duty. Or at least that’s the theory. Congress has repeatedly failed to yield to its own extortion.

Senate and House conferees are confident they will reach agreement and pass a bill before the end of the year. We’ll see. Between now and then there will be an election. Given the current divisive politics, that couldn’t possibly hold things up.

But it also provides an opportunity.

While we don’t think much of legislators who can’t meet their own deadlines, we have to put a fair amount of the blame on their employers.

We may not get the government we deserve, as the old saw goes, but we do get the one we vote for.

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