Farm bill expires
by Chance Wright
Sep 30, 2012 | 2267 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Congress ended the current legislative session last week without a new farm bill and no extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, which expires today.

The U.S. Farm Bill is the primary agricultural and food policy tool of the federal government covering areas ranging from farm subsidies, nutrition programs and crop insurance.

The bill is usually amended every five years, and at nearly one trillion dollars, it's one of the more substantial pieces of legislation in Congress.

A new version of the bill was passed earlier in the U.S. Senate, but it never made it to the floor in the House of Representatives.

Congress will not be in session in October, as lawmakers head back to their home districts to focus on Nov. 6 elections. They are scheduled to return Nov. 13 for a post-election "lame-duck" session, which runs through the end of the year.

"Farmers are right in the middle of the harvest season right now, which is the bottom-line most important part of the growing season," said Randy Knight, president of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation. "The U.S. Farm Bill is the one thing that farmers shouldn't have to be worried about.

"Washington needs to step up to the plate and do what they're supposed to do and get us a Farm Bill passed so we'll know what we've got and be able to provide that safety net to keep our guys in business."

The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation has been a strong voice in the fight for fairness in the new bill.

In March, the bureau announced it's dissent from the American Farm Bureau Federation's policy concerning the new bill.

"We feel like the American Farm Bureau Federation's policy on the Farm Bill did not adequately address the needs of Mississippi producers," said Knight. "We have notified AFBF that we will work with out congressional delegation in a different direction that better addresses the risks and hazards that we face in Mississippi."

Most programs in the 2008 Farm Bill will continue to operate without a new bill, including: crop insurance, the majority of conservation programs and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP, or food stamps.

According to Mississippi Congressman Alan Nunnellee, the congressional hang-up on passing a new bill revolves around the fact that about 80 percent of the Farm Bill spending would go to the SNAP program.

"There's this desire that if we're going to manage agriculture, that we've got to deal with some of the nutritional programs; and because of that I'm just not sure that we can get the votes, said Nunnellee in an interview with Mississippi Public Broadcasting. "That's what's got the Farm Bill in limbo right now."

In Mississippi, producers of commodities other than dairy will not see much of a difference until after the first of the year, if a new bill is not put into place by then.

Earlier this week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack released the following statement about Congress' failure.

"In a year that has brought its share of challenges to America's farmers and ranchers, the House Republicans have added new uncertainty for rural America," he said. "Unfortunately, House Republicans left Washington without passing comprehensive, multi-year food, farm and jobs legislation — leaving thousands of farming families exposed.

"U.S. agriculture is fighting to maintain the tremendous momentum it has built over the past three years, but with natural disasters and other external forces threatening livelihoods of our farmers and ranchers, certainty is more important than ever," Vilsack continued. "Americans deserve a food, farm and jobs bill that reforms the safety net for producers in times of need, promotes the bio-based economy, conserves our natural resources, strengthens rural communities, promotes job growth in rural America, and supports food assistance to low-income families. Without the certainty of a multi-year bill, rural communities are being asked to shoulder undue burdens."