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Who Suffers Most Without a US Farm Bill?

3 October 2012, at 6:08pm

ANALYSIS - On 30 September, the 2008 US Farm Bill, which governed many US farm policies, expired and the new 2012 Farm Bill is currently bottled up in the House of Representatives, leaving US farmers and ranchers at risk, writes Sarah Mikesell, 5m senior editor.

Expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill has little or no effect on some of the major programs which don't expire, like crop insurance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps. However, it has eliminated a number of important programs that will affect many farmers across the country.

Programs Affected by Farm Bill Expiration

According to a coalition of US agricultural groups, dairy producers will face considerable challenges. The Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program compensated dairy producers when domestic milk prices fall below a specified level. Without a new Farm Bill, dairy farmers are left without assistance especially amid the highest feed costs on-record.

The Foreign Market Development Program (FMD) pools technical and financial resources to conduct overseas market development. FMD helps maintain and increase market share by addressing long-term foreign market import constraints and identifying new markets. Funding is not gone yet, but will run out at the end of October.

This year, about 6.5 million acres rotates out of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which protects environmentally sensitive land, decreases erosion, restores wildlife habitat, and safeguards ground and surface water. While current contracts are protected, no new signup will be allowed for CRP or the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), Wetlands Reserve Program or the Grasslands Reserve Program.

Both versions of the new Farm Bill contain funding for the drought-related disasters facing the livestock industry. However, programs are currently only available for lack of forage and death of animals.

Numerous other programs, including energy, agricultural research, rural development and funding for new and beginning farmers could be added to this list of affected programs.

Experts agree that US farmers, in general, are all hurt by the lack of a Farm Bill because it's difficult to plan for 2013 when farmers don't know what to expect. How do farmers talk to their banker when no one knows what type of financial safety net will be agreed on?

In June, the Senate passed its version of the bill and the House Agriculture Committee approved a similar version in July. However, House Republican leaders would not bring a bill to the House floor, saying they didn't have the necessary votes to pass it.

Congress has left Washington and will return in mid-November for a lame-duck session prior to final adjournment in December.

Who else gets to take a 6-week vacation without finishing their job? Only US politicians.