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Published October 02, 2012, 11:39 AM

Farm bill's Sept. 30 expiration has farm groups pushing for action

U.S. farm groups and agricultural leaders say the Sept. 30 expiration of the U.S. farm bill will hurt farmers, ranchers and others in ag.

By: Jonathan Knutson,

U.S. farm groups and agricultural leaders say the Sept. 30 expiration of the U.S. farm bill will hurt farmers, ranchers and others in ag.

Congress failed to approve a new farm bill, or extend the old one, before adjourning for the fall election. The farm bill is the centerpiece of the federal government’s food and agricultural policy.

Because Congress failed to act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture “has far fewer tools to help strengthen American agriculture and grow a rural economy that supports 1 in 12 American jobs,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a written statement. “Rural communities are today being asked to shoulder additional burdens and additional uncertainty in a tough time.”

Expiration of the farm bill has little or no impact on many programs, according to a joint written statement from 15 farm and commodity organizations, including the National Farmers Union and American Farm Bureau Federation.

However, ongoing market development and conservation efforts will be hurt, the farm groups said.

“The bottom line is that while expiration of the farm bill causes little or no pain to some, others face significant challenges,” according to the farm groups.

Among the things affected by the farm bill’s expiration is the Foreign Market Development Program, a cost-sharing trade promotion partnership between USDA and U.S. agricultural producers and processors. The program pools technical and financial resources to conduct overseas market development, the farm groups said.

“Other countries will most certainly take advantage of the fact that the program is rendered inoperable and will do what they can to steal our markets — and everyone knows, the hardest market to get is the one you lost,” according to the 15 farm groups.

Thirty-one percent of America’s gross farm income comes from exports, the farm groups noted.

Dairy farmers face “a severe handicap,” said Andrew Novakovic, a professor at Cornel University in Ithaca, N.Y., who specializes in the economics of dairy markets, said in a written statement.

The Milk Income Loss Contract program, which helps farmers offset the difference between the price of milk they receive and what they pay for feed, is among the farm bill programs affected. The loss of the MILC program could mean the difference between losing money and breaking close to even for some milk producers, Novakovic said.

Congressional leaders who worked for a new farm bill are critical that one wasn’t approved.

“It is unbelievable that we’re in this position now where the farm bill will expire and create so much uncertainty for farmers, ranchers, and small businesses.” Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Senate Ag Committee, said in a written statement.

The 15 farm groups, in their joint statement, said they will push for a new farm bill when Congress reconvenes in mid-November for its lame-duck session.

“We will work to have the first order of business for the House of Representatives be to consider a new farm bill. We are urging our members to seek out their House members between now and the elections and remind them of the consequences of not having a new bill in place prior to adjournment at the end of the year,” the farm groups said.