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View From the Hill: Farm Bill blues

By Grace Boatright, National Grange Legislative Director (View From The Hill Blog 9/17/12)

  SEPTEMBER 17, 2012 --

It doesn’t look like we’re going to get a Farm Bill before Congress adjourns in a few days, as even Collin Peterson (D-MN), the ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee, admitted just a few hours ago. So now one of two things will probably happen. One: the Farm Bill, along with a host of other items, will be taken up after the November elections during the lame duck session. Two: depending on how the elections turn out (depending on who comes out on top), Congress might just leave it for the new 113th Congress to deal with come January. If you think this has been a mess so far, imagine a bunch of freshman Congressmen trying to straighten this out. Either way, it’s not a pretty picture.

In the meantime, what exactly are the consequences of not passing the Farm Bill before September 30th when most of its programs expire? The consequences are a little thicker than you’d think.

Let’s start with the good news. If and when the current law expires, direct payments to farmers will continue at $5 billion a year. Similarly, SNAP will continue through other programs. I guess even the federal government wouldn’t let 46 million people starve to death. How gracious.

However, nearly 40 other programs will not be funded again after the 2012 fiscal year ends on September 30th. The USDA receives approximately 90% of its funding through the Farm Bill and if there is no extension of the current law, then many programs under USDA authority will revert back to the original 1949 farm law. Every Farm Bill since 1949 has simply been an amendment to this law. This will result in dramatic increases in the prices of some commodities, and probably a dramatic fall in others.

According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Commission, programs that will be adversely affected include, “all the major programs for beginning and minority farmers, farmers markets, organic agriculture, renewable energy, and rural economic development.” The Market Access Program (MAP) and the Foreign Market Development Program (FMD) will not be funded as well.

As someone who’s been heavily working on the issue of expanding broadband Internet to rural areas, I’m especially distraught about rural economic development programs being cut off. However, more importantly, many farmers and ranchers who have been devastated by our nation’s drought will not receive the help they need to manage through this crisis.

I hate to sound so negative about the whole thing, but it really is a pretty grim picture. Mother nature is supposed to be harsh and unpredictable at times, but the fact that House leadership refuses to take up this matter for political reasons is outrageous. I mean, I’m not saying they need to pass one version or the other, but they absolutely need to bring the Farm Bill to the floor so they can at least begin debate on it. Of course, it’s not over till it’s over, but with the clock ticking and Congress anxious to get out of town, I don’t see things turning in our favor.

-Grace Boatright
National Grange Legislative Director

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