By FRANK PRIESTLEY
The U.S. Congress recently broke for its annual August recess without completing work on a new five-year farm bill. Though the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee completed work on the bill in early July, the House of Representatives remains stuck in a partisan rut.
For farmers and ranchers across the nation, this news was a big disappointment. They don’t have the luxury of going home before the work is done, and most of them are suffering through the worst drought since 1956. Their futures are uncertain. A Farm Bill could provide them with some certainty, and it needs to become a priority inside the Beltway.
The major hang-up is partisan bickering over Food Stamps and other feeding and nutrition programs, which make up 84 percent of Farm Bill allocations. It’s also an election year, and campaigning often seems to take priority over statesmanship—an unfortunate reality in politics that is especially bad timing for farmers and ranchers this year.
Generally, Republicans support cuts to feeding and nutrition programs while Democrats support expansion or reallocation of funds from farm programs into feeding and nutrition programs. As a side note, the fact that legislation critical to agriculture production is deadlocked over programs that provide free or discount food to underprivileged Americans is ridiculous.
Current Farm Bill provisions expire on Sept. 30. The House did offer a one-year extension of the current Bill but it couldn’t garner a majority. This Band-Aid approach fell short of offering a degree of certainty to farm operators making long-term decisions on crop rotation, herd management, and land and capital purchases.
A new five-year Farm Bill would provide disaster assistance for livestock and specialty crop producers, which are currently unauthorized and unfunded. Further, it would incorporate significant reforms to farm support programs that are essential to continuing support for agriculture as the base for the nation’s economy.
American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman summarized as follows: “For more than a year, we have been advocating farm policy that protects and strengthens risk management programs for all farmers,” Stallman said. “This legislation (the bill passed by the House Ag Committee) maintains proven program features such as the marketing loan provision and strengthens the crop insurance program while setting a clear example of fiscal responsibility with significant but fair reductions in agriculture spending over the next decade.”
The clock is ticking on this year’s congressional calendar. We encourage farmers and ranchers to contact Rep. Mike Simpson and Rep. Raul Labrador during the coming month and remind them that a package of fiscally responsible reforms is on the table. We remain hopeful that a farm bill can be sent to President Obama before current programs expire on Sept. 30.
Frank Priestly is president of the Idaho Farm Bureau.