By Tim Thornberry
For supporters of legalizing industrial hemp, the morning of June 20 must have felt really good as an amendment to the House version of the Farm Bill that would have allowed colleges and universities to grow and research industrial hemp passed, albeit by a slim 225-200 margin.
Granted, it wasn’t as broad of an amendment as its Senate cousin, which would have allowed states the right to produce hemp straight out. But that amendment never made it to the Senate agriculture legislation.
The problem came when the House tried to pass the full Farm Bill, officially known as H.R. 1947, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013. Passage failed but at least this year, the House did vote. The Farm Bill that is currently administering the country’s ag policy expired in September of 2012. The House never took a vote last year. Instead, an extension of the bill made it through in the waning hours of a lame duck session last December.
A repeat looks to be in the making if House divisions over such issues as deeper cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are not resolved.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry said in a statement after the vote, the Senate has done its part, now the House needs to do the same.
“Twice the Senate has overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan Farm Bill that reforms farm programs, ends direct payments, cuts spending and creates American agriculture jobs,” she said. “The House needs to find a way to get a five-year Farm Bill done. The speaker needs to work in a bipartisan way and present a bill that Democrats and Republicans can support. He could start by bringing the Senate bill to the floor for a vote.”
Stabenow also said, “Maintaining the status quo means no reform, no deficit reduction and further uncertainty that slows growth in our agriculture industry. This is totally unacceptable.”
House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said after the vote he still thinks a Farm Bill will be completed.
“On this day, on this vote, the House worked its will. I’m obviously disappointed, but the reforms in H.R. 1947- $40 billion in deficit reduction, elimination of direct payments and the first reforms to SNAP since 1996 – are so important that we must continue to pursue them,” he said. “We are assessing all of our options, but I have no doubt that we will finish our work in the near future and provide the certainty that our farmers, ranchers, and rural constituents need.”
Agriculture organizations across the country reacted quickly to the news. Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation said the organization was highly disappointed the House did not complete work on the 2013 farm bill.
“It was a balanced bill that would have provided much needed risk management tools and a viable economic safety net for America’s farmers and ranchers,” he said. “We commend House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) for their commitment and hard work in bringing the bill to the floor and working toward its passage. We look forward to working with them as we regroup and move forward. We also appreciate House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for working with the Agriculture Committee leadership to bring the bill to the floor.”
Stallman also said a completed farm bill is much needed to provide farmers and ranchers certainty for the coming years and to allow the Agriculture Department to plan for an orderly implementation of the bill’s provisions.
The American Soybean Association (ASA) began its statement by voicing its extreme disappointment and frustration in the failure to pass the bill.
ASA President Danny Murphy said, “This bill would have reinforced the farm safety net, promoted our products in foreign markets, strengthened the fast-growing biodiesel industry, enhanced conservation programs; not to mention the stable, affordable and safe supply of food, feed, fiber and fuel that it would have ensured for all Americans; all while addressing our collective fiscal and budgetary obligations. Now, none of those benefits can be realized and a debilitating uncertainty extends from farmers to consumers as we all face the expiration of Farm Bill programs on Sept. 30.”
Murphy added that it is incumbent on both Republicans and Democrats to find a way forward for American agriculture.
National Corn Growers Association President Pam Johnson released a statement after the vote saying the organization was extremely disappointed to see the House of Representatives fail to pass the 2013 Farm Bill.
“Up to the last minute our organization has actively and consistently called for passage of the legislation,” she said. “We will be engaged in all efforts needed to secure passage in the House and bring the bill to conference.”
Indeed, it may be only by committee conference that a bill with finally pass. If that is the case hemp supporters will lobby to have their amendment included.
One of Kentucky’s newest representatives, Rep. Andy Barr, supported the amendment and said before the Farm Bill vote that Kentucky deserved the opportunity to demonstrate the usefulness and viability of this crop for farmers.
Rep. Thomas Massie, another newcomer to the Kentucky congressional landscape said after passage of the amendment, “Industrial hemp is used for hundreds of products including paper, clothing, rope, and can be converted into renewable biofuels more efficiently than corn or switchgrass. It’s our goal that the research this amendment enables would further broadcast the economic benefits of the sustainable and job-creating crop.
While Massie co-sponsored the amendment, he along with fellow Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth were the only “no” votes on the Farm Bill from the Kentucky delegation.
Tim Thornberry is a freelance writer and photographer who has covered Kentucky agricultural and rural issues for various publications since 1995.