Here’s the thing: For months, we have been shouting — at the top of our lungs, really — the important role a farm bill plays in keeping America’s farmers farming. And, hey, we have one now. It’s an extension of the old one, but at least we have one. All’s well that ends well, right?
Wrong. Just because we now have an extended farm bill doesn’t mean this ended well.
Don’t get me wrong — the extension of the current farm bill was needed. Farming is a risky business and the provisions in the farm bill, like disaster programs and crop insurance, allow farmers to more carefully plan for the years to come.
Still, an extension was less than ideal.
In this case, the legislation extends virtually all provisions of the 2008 farm bill for the next nine months throughout the end of the current fiscal year. That means one more year of commodity programs, including ACRE and direct payments. Funding for crop insurance and nutrition programs remain unchanged. Finally, the bill does not include the new dairy gross margin/supply management program, but rather extends the Milk Income Loss Contract program.
Additionally, the bill authorizes $80 million for livestock indemnity payments, $400 million for the livestock forage disaster program, $50 million for emergency assistance for livestock, honey bees, and farm-raised fish, and $20 million for trees assistance. But it is important to note, however, that these programs are authorized but not funded. In order to have any funding, the Appropriations Committees would have to provide the funding. The bill also authorizes, but does not fund, any of the 37 expiring programs that lost their base.
And the extension keeps in place, and funds, direct payments, despite the fact that agriculture groups agreed to cut those out of the new farm bill. That’s an additional cost to taxpayers that they wouldn’t have had if Congress had gotten it together and passed a new farm bill.
In fact, after months of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees calling for the adopted committee bills to be voted, and months of farm organizations calling for a farm bill as well, Congress was unable and unwilling to do anything to put a new farm bill in place. And that means the new Congress will have nine months to re-introduce, mark up and take to the House and Senate floor a new farm bill. In the current political climate, that’s a heck of a lot to ask.
We would hope that a new farm bill would have many of the provisions that the previous legislation, passed by the House and Senate Agriculture Committees in the summer of 2012, had. The sad truth is, however, that much will likely change.
Despite the fact that agriculture was the only industry or group to volunteer funding cuts — a cool $23 billion over the next ten years — Congress refused to act. Rather than working together to put a five-year farm bill in place, they kicked the can down road, allowing the next Congress to deal with the problem.
Unfortunately, as a new farm bill is written and marked up over the next nine months, there will be even less money to go around than there was in the summer of 2012. Allowing the new Congress to deal with the problem means much deeper cuts, riskier business for farmers, and, in the long run, a food supply that is less secure and safe.
Yes, unfortunately, this could have gone better.