Expiration Brings Renewed Urgency for Farm Bill

Expiration Brings Renewed Urgency for Farm Bill

Farm groups, politicians call for lame duck vote

When Congress left town last month without passing a new farm bill, many farm groups expressed disappointment and doubt about the possibility of a 2012 Farm Bill. But, after the Sept. 30 expiration on Sunday, groups have a renewed interest in pushing the farm bill to the floor.

USDA Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said the expiration has hindered USDA's ability to provide farm commodity and price support, conservation, research, nutrition, food safety, and agricultural trade.

As Congress adjouned in September, they left the Farm Bill without a vote.

"As of today, USDA's authority or funding to deliver many of these programs has expired, leaving USDA with far fewer tools to help strengthen American agriculture and grow a rural economy that supports one in 12 American jobs," Vilsack said in a statement released Monday.

Vilsack said lack of action will be hard on rural communities.

"Rural communities are today being asked to shoulder additional burdens and additional uncertainty in a tough time," he said.

Vilsack speculated also during a Monday press call that the farm bill wasn't taken to vote because some members of Congress are pushing for more cuts after the election.

"There's a great deal of uncertainty, great deal of stress. There didn't have to be. There was plenty of time to get this done," he said.

In a joint statement, 15 farm associations joined together also to address challenges the ag industry faces without a farm bill.

"[Expiration] has terminated a number of important programs and will very adversely affect many farmers and ranchers, as well as ongoing market development and conservation efforts," the groups wrote.

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The groups highlighted the loss of the Foreign Market Development program, which is a cost-sharing trade promotion program that worked to increase market share and foreign trade.

"Since 31% of our gross farm income comes from exports which also make a positive contribution to our Nation's trade balance, trade promotion is an important part of our safety net.  Other countries will most certainly take advantage of the fact that the program is rendered inoperable and will do what they can to steal our markets – and everyone knows, the hardest market to get is the one you lost," the group's statement said.

Sign-ups will also cease for the Conservation Reserve Program, which allows producers to decrease erosion and protect sensitive lands. More than 6.5 million acres will rotate out of the CRP this year.

Dairy producers will likely face the most noticeable changes throughout the remainder of 2012. A key support program for dairies, the Milk Income Loss Contract, expired with the 2008 Farm Bill. The program compensated dairy producers when milk prices fell below certain levels.

Jerry Kozak, President and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation, said the expiration should remind farmers to voice their dissatisfaction with the "lack of action on farm policy."

Kozak said dairy farmers are facing high feed costs and previous programs haven't addressed this issue. He touted the Dairy Security Act, a debated policy in the 2012 Farm Bill, but nonetheless a program NMPF supports.

"Had the House leadership brought the bipartisan farm bill to the floor, I believe we could have passed a bill containing the Dairy Security Act," Kozak said. "Instead, we are in uncharted waters, and one of our life rafts has disappeared."

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Kozak recommended that dairy farmers contact members of Congress to push the bill through.

"We need a full, five-year bill to be passed in the House, sent to a conference committee, and approved before the end of the year," he said.

U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said allowing policy to expire was "unbelievable" and stressed the bipartisan nature of the Senate-passed farm bill and the House Agriculture Committee-passed farm bill.

"It's absolutely unacceptable that the House Republican leadership couldn't devote just one day to rural America and the 16 million jobs across the country that rely on agriculture," Stabenow said Monday.

Though many programs have been affected by the expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill, there are some that will remain in existence.

Nutrition programs, which account for almost 80% of the funding in the Farm Bill, will still be offered without disruption. Crop insurance provisions and some conservation programs will also be unaffected. However, U.S. Secretary of Ag Tom Vilsack has long pushed for a farm bill due to the "certainty" it will provide – meaning producers may better organize long-term business plans.

Congress is scheduled to return to session in mid-November, following elections.

TAGS: USDA
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