Unbelievably, Members of Congress are headed out of town having not passed a new farm bill or extended the old one.

(See Boehner confirms no farm bill until lame duck session).

This means that on Oct. 1, authorization for farm and food policies spanning the breath and depth of our economy will have expired.

Wheat farmers who are now taking on operating loans for the 2013 crop and putting it in the ground will be joined by many, many others wondering what farm safety net will exist in the new year and how much more deeply farm programs will be cut when the new Congress is seated in January. 

Here are a few possible scenarios for what might happen next:

On Sept. 30, the 2008 farm bill expires, taking with it authorization for most farm and food programs, with the notable exceptions of crop insurance, authorized under the Federal Crop Insurance Act, and some conservation programs. 

Many programs will continue to function, however, particularly if they have an appropriation the pending six-month continuing resolution. USDA is preparing a plan to phase out programs as law and funding expire.

Assuming Congress returns for a lame duck session — which is scheduled, but not guaranteed — both the House and Senate could consider a full, five-year bill, a three-month extension of the 2008 law or a one-year extension of the 2008 law. 

The steps to pass a new, five-year farm bill in this Congress are surprisingly few: the House needs to approve the bill already presented by the House Agriculture Committee, that bill needs to be conferenced with a Senate bill, and the compromise measure needs final approval from both chambers and the president’s signature. 

A House whip conducted last week on a three-month extension fell short of getting necessary support. Such an extension after the election would be even less likely.