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Published March 03, 2012, 10:41 PM

Politics could put farm bill on hold

Observers say little likely to get done ahead of election.

By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic

It’s a head scratcher.

Farmers across South Dakota and the nation are anxiously waiting some congressional action on a 2012 farm bill. Whether or not a bill will materialize this year is anyone’s guess, state Secretary of Agriculture Walt Bones said in a recent telephone interview with The Daily Republic.

“You got a coin you want to flip?” Bones said, half-joking.

“I don’t think anybody really held out a whole lot of promise there might be a new bill, given the contention we have in Congress, but I think there’s going to be an attempt to get something done before the election, or before the farm bill expires.”

But, since Bones is only offering 50-50 odds, it’s back to the coin toss again.

“It’s so up in the air right now,” he said. “A lot of work needs to be done on it.”

Nationally syndicated agricultural writer Alan Guebert, whose column appear Thursdays in The Daily Republic, said politicians are treading lightly with a farm bill this election year.

“Last November, President Obama’s ‘super committee’ looked at cutting $30 billion from the proposed (farm) bill behind closed doors, but time expired and nothing happened — at least publicly.”

If some sort of bill does emerge — and that’s not likely to happen until this summer, said Guebert — few people believe direct payment price supports will survive in their current form.

“Farmers know that direct payments are gone already,” he said.

“Prices are stratospheric, so there won’t be any sympathy for these poor farmers,” Guebert said.

Bones believes crop producers in northern states are accepting the fact that direct payments are on the wane, but producers are hoping the government will, in lieu of those payments, offer more support to crop insurance programs.

That support will theoretically allow farmers to insure a higher percentage of their crops.

Price supports of some sort are necessary, believes Bones, as the expenses and risks of farming continue to increase. Input and land costs have increased radically in recent years and farmers have to do what they can to insure against a potential crop disaster, he said.

“All the farmers I know would rather get their prices out of the market than the government,” Bones said.

Farmer Chris McConville, of Baltic, District 2 director of the South Dakota Farm Bureau, also has misgivings about the survival of direct payments, but he believes many government food programs depend upon some sort of government support.

He favors more insurance support.

“As a farmer I would probably have more benefits from higher insurance coverage than I would from direct payments,” he said.

The most short-term likelihood, Guebert said, is that the government will extend the current farm bill as a stopgap measure.

“If I had to make a bet, it will be a one-year extension,” he said.