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A final farm bill update

Sunday saw initial agreement to put forward some version of new farm legislation; the most likely prospect is an extension of the current farm policy that has been in effect for the past five years. This would avert the change back to the permanent 1949 act that might have raised milk prices sharply.

The livestock disaster provisions of the bill expired in 2011, which is why the House passed a new disaster bill this fall. It is believed that House Chairman Frank Lucas and Senate Chair Debbie Stabenow will attempt to fund and extend the disaster provisions for 2012 and 2013.

Two other options were also introduced by Chairman Lucas: one is a simple one-month extension of current farm policy, which would expire practically before the Committees would even be able to meet in order to deal with new legislation in 2013. The other option is to address only the “dairy cliff” by suspending permanent law in regards to dairy policy. It’s almost a certainty that House Ag Committee Ranking Member Colin Peterson would work hard to defeat either of the above-mentioned options if they are advanced by Speaker John Boehner or Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

On Sunday morning, Lucas released the following statement:

“Clearly, it is no longer possible to enact a five-year farm bill in this Congress. Given this reality, the responsible thing to do – and the course of action I have long encouraged if a five-year bill was not possible – is to extend the 2008 legislation for one year. This provides certainty to our producers and critical disaster assistance to those affected by record drought conditions.
“The legislation posted is the result of discussions with Ranking Member Peterson and my colleagues in the Senate. It is not perfect – no compromise ever is – but it is my sincere hope that it will pass the House and Senate and be signed by the President by January 1.”

Stabenow also released a statement Sunday:

“While the Senate passed a bipartisan five-year Farm Bill in June that cut subsidies and reduced the deficit, the lack of action by the House Republican leadership has put us in a situation where we risk serious damage to our economy unless we pass a temporary extension.
“If a new Farm Bill is not passed in the next few days, Agriculture Committee leaders in both chambers and both parties have developed a responsible short-term Farm Bill extension that not only stops milk prices from spiking, but also prevents eventual damage to our entire agriculture economy. It is critical that we pass a five-year Farm Bill that gives farmers and ranchers the certainty they need to plan for the future. If a new Farm Bill doesn’t pass this Congress we’ll soon hold another mark-up and just keep working until one is enacted next year.”

The fate of an extension is still in doubt. Detractors of farm policy will likely complain about not getting the reform promised in the 2012 bills that passed the full Senate and the House Ag Committee. However, it appears that the House is likely to vote on the extension late Monday, after consumer uproar developed concerning consumer milk prices doubling after January 1 if nothing is done regarding farm policy.