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More of the Same: Farm Bill in America

by Cassandra Basore

Nobody in Washington, so far as I can tell, is talking very much, or worrying very much, about how little time remains before the extended “old” farm bill expires leaving a lot of agriculture out in the cold.  Actually, it’s not just those farmers out there in the county, or across the state, or over the nation, that are at risk.  I’d guess maybe you’ve heard about the food stamp program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - - SNAP - - that’s also at risk, because it is part of the farm bill.

Yes, I know the House version of the farm bill eliminates SNAP, and leaves its implementation to a separately handled piece of legislation.  I understand the proponents of that bit of legislative legerdemain want first to separate SNAP from the farm bill as a cost-cutting measure.  I further understand that at least some of the proponents of that procedure anticipate being able to cut the separated SNAP appropriation by several billions.  That would be good for the budget, but it would be an unbearable burden on a lot of folks.  For that reason, and a lot of other reasons, the House version, as presented the chance of a snowball in Hawaii, or some other warm place.

The Senate has a farm bill which apparently the President would sign, but it needs endorsement by the House before it gets to him.  So, the House and Senate get together in a Conference Committee to come up with a bill finding favor in both the House and Senate - - It’s called compromise, which is something else we don’t hear much of recently.

Having once been extended for a year, the old farm bill isn’t likely to be extended again, so I hear - - or maybe it can’t be.  Anyway for reasons not perfectly clear to me, if there is no new farm bill, and if the old one can’t be extended again, law provides that we fall back to 1949.  If that happens, and we’re assured that’s not likely, the Secretary of Agriculture assumes control of a whole lot of activity presently controlled by whatever farm bill is in effect at the time.  The only concrete, solid expression of concern I’ve heard comes by way of the International Dairy Foods Association, the concern of which is outlined by House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, who point out IDFA Senior Vice President for Legislative Affairs Jerry Slominski that 1949 law, enforced at this time, would dramatically and artificially increase the cost of nutritious dairy products and cause irreparable harm to an important sector of the ag economy.

House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas says he expects legislators will stay in town during the upcoming recess to deal with a continuing resolution to keep the government operating and that an opportunity will thus be provided to appoint House Conference Committee members.  The Senate members have long since been appointed.

And then there will still be a tremendous amount of tillage before a new farm bill can be harvested.