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Congress missed deadline on farm bill, but government shutdown grabbed the attention


The deadline for passing a farm bill extension was Sept. 30.(Photo by Tim Thornberry)


By Tim Thornberry
KyForward correspondent

Along with allowing the federal government to shut down, Congress has also allowed time to run out on passing a farm bill extension. The difference between the two is that little attention has been paid to the latter, except from the agriculture community most affected by the legislative inaction.
Ag organizations around the country issued statements after the Sept. 30 deadline, voicing their displeasure and concerns over the lack of a bill that guides the nation’s agriculture community.

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation said farmers and ranchers, along with 90 percent of the country, are frustrated with Congress.

Danny Murphy, a soybean, corn and wheat farmer and president of the American Soybean Association said Congress has failed its most basic duty: to debate and pass legislation and, “frankly, we’ve run out of ways to say we’re disappointed.”

In a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said the 2008 Farm Bill had now been allowed to expire twice, telling the speaker, “The fate of the Farm Bill is now in your hands.”

Johnson added, in a statement, “The U.S. Congress has put all Americans in a dire situation.”
From a local farmer’s perspective, the feelings are mixed, but concern is still plentiful.

Hampton “Hoppy” Henton, a corn, soybeans, wheat and cattle farmer in Central Kentucky said people should be glad Congress didn’t pass a farm bill with everything else going on in Washington.
“I don’t raise a lot of anything but a little bit of a lot as many people in Kentucky do and obviously there’s a reason every five or seven years we pass the temporary farm bill as opposed to having a permanent bill because we can’t really project out 35 years of what is going to happen,” he said. “Thank God we’re not passing one because with the need we have for a safety net and prices coming out of a $7 corn market and a $14 or $15 bean market and a $6.50 or $7 wheat market, it’s difficult to be able to sell to an urban constituent why we should have any safety net at all.”
Henton added that as corn drops, those kinds of prices don’t last long but it’s difficult to convince the public that stability is needed in the market, which is the basic safety net issue.
He also said that he doesn’t think separating the nutrition title from the rest of the Farm Bill is not the thing to do.

“I would not want the House of Representatives, as it exists today, even thinking about writing a farm bill after what they just did to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program),” he said. “Separating SNAP and food nutrition from agriculture is lunacy. You want to write a farm bill when you’ve just had a crisis and you need support. This is a bad time to write it.”

Henton is familiar with how the politics of the bill works. During the Clinton Administration, he served as the state director of what became the USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

An extension of the farm bill, however, will not create any revenue savings that have been built in to both present versions of the bill and sold on both sides of the isle as a reason to get the legislation passed.
Jeff Hall, a Kentucky agriculture policy veteran said he agrees with the fact that it may be a bad time to write a bill except for the fact that it has been discussed in hearings for almost five years.

“I don’t know how much more debate we need and I think that’s the problem, we just keep talking about it,” he said. “I understand there are two or three issues that are sort of hanging things up like SNAP, but it’s not like we need a lot of time to just deal with the Farm Bill.”
Hall added that certainty for producers is a big reason to get a bill passed.

“They’ve been pretty patient and pretty adaptable but you’re going into really another planting season for next spring’s crops not even knowing what’s there. It’s fundamentally unfair not to have some kind of idea of what they may face next spring,” he said.

Hall also said that in having nutrition programs, especially SNAP, included on the Farm Bill historically it has been a way to gain enough support from urban legislators to get the bill passed.
“This whole debate has been sort of a tipping point rather than helping carry a farm bill to the finish line,” he said. “This time it’s probably been what’s raised the most questions and raised the most issues. There are a lot of people who think you’ve got to keep these things linked together but agriculture and farming, even though they don’t have key representation in Congress, they still have pretty good political support. I’m not convinced anymore that the two have to be tied together in order to get a farm bill.”

Hall added that thinks it’s time to pass a permanent bill as opposed to amending a bill from the 1940’s. The last permanent bill came in 1949. Subsequent legislation has only amended that law for five or more years at a time. Some lawmakers have used the threat of returning to 1940’s law as leverage to get news bills through.

“I just think it makes sense. I can give you 10 reasons why there should be a new permanent law and really only one, half-hearted reason why we keep going back to old law. I think it fails to recognize how agriculture changes,” he said.

Tim Thornberry is a freelance writer and photographer who has covered Kentucky agricultural and rural issues for various publications since 1995.

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