Farm Horizons, December 2013
Farm Bill legislation in limbo
By Kristen Miller
As of late November, the Senate and House of Representatives have yet to come to a compromise on the 2014 Farm Bill as talks continue in the Farm Bill conference committee.
Both the Republican-led House and the Democratic-led Senate have passed their own versions, but “they are very far apart,” said Kevin Bergquist, county executive director for the Farm Service Agency in Wright County.
The Farm Bill is important legislation that provides authorization for services and programs that impact every American and millions of people around the world, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
In January 2013, Congress took short-term action to extend many 2008 Farm Bill programs for nine months, however, those programs expired in September, limiting their effectiveness and providing no long-term certainty for farmers, ranchers, and rural communities.
That is why it is with urgency that Congress has been asked to pass a new, comprehensive, long-term Food, Farm and Jobs Bill.
The USDA website states: “A Food, Farm and Jobs Bill would allow USDA to continue our record accomplishments on behalf of the American people, while providing new income opportunities across rural America.
“For example, it would enable USDA to further expand markets for agricultural products at home and abroad, strengthen conservation efforts, create new opportunities for local and regional food systems, and grow the bio-based economy. It would provide a dependable safety net for America’s farmers, ranchers, and growers. It would maintain important agricultural research, and ensure access to safe and nutritious food for all Americans. A comprehensive bill would also continue programs that directly help rural communities to create jobs.”
Bergquist noted that the House passed a version of the bill that did not include funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program known as SNAP through the USDA, which offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities.
The Senate’s version was more traditional, noted Bergquist, and included SNAP funding.
The 2008 Farm Bill, which was amended by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, included the USDA’s Milk Income Loss Contract Program (MILC), administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA), compensating dairy producers when domestic milk prices fall below a specified level.
A decision must be made whether or not to continue this program, Bergquist noted.
Both versions, however, would do away with direct payment subsidies to grain and cotton farmers. This is a set payment per acre, regardless of the crop yield or how much the crop brings in at market. Eligibility and amount are historically based on how many acres and what kind of crop farmed. For example, soybeans, oats, and barley have been in the range of $20 an acre, Bergquist noted.
Both versions being debated would still protect farmers in the case of a severe and lengthy drop in prices, Bergquist affirmed, adding that the debate is on the mechanism of that protection.
With the farm bill currently in limbo, farmers will have a greater difficulty planning for next year’s planting season.
“Farmers need to know what’s in the bill so they can plan for next year,” Bergquist said.
Senator Amy Klobuchar addressed the issue as a member of the conference committee. “Agriculture is the backbone of Minnesota’s rural economies, and our farmers and ranchers deserve strong, long-term legislation that gives them the support and certainty they need. As a member of the Farm Bill conference committee, I am committed to getting this done as quickly as possible, while working to ensure that the bill contains critical components of the Senate-passed Farm Bill, such as strengthening the crop insurance program and maintaining the livestock disaster programs that help our farmers through tough times.”
Bergquist identified three outcomes:
• Congress comes to an agreement and passes a new farm bill;
• Congress finds they can’t come to an agreement or the President won’t sign the bill, and the expired bill is extended; or
• neither a new bill or an extension passes and it goes back to the permanent farm legislation that was set in the 1940s.
“Most of Congress are hopeful for the first or the second one,” Bergquist noted.