Waiting is sometimes what farmers have had to learn to do best. Waiting for fields to dry. Waiting for rain. Waiting for heifers to calve. Waiting for a killing frost, driving moisture content down before going full-tilt in to harvest.
Waiting, now, for the House and the Senate to get back to work on the farm bill.
With the House and Senate now on the long holiday recess, there is no hope of passing a new farm bill until mid-January, if then. For our entire lifetime, problems within this bill have been brewing similar to an enormous volcano, in large part because the farm bill harkens back to the Truman administration.
With the House proposing $40 billion in cuts and the Senate proposing $4 billion in cuts, it appears we all have been waiting too long for the policy makers to realize something major needs to be changed with the entire structure of the farm bill.
An enormous glitch, which seems so obvious it almost goes without saying, is that policy set for farm subsidies and rural development projects is tied together with the massive food stamp program, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
It is the $80 billion per year food stamp program that has, in very large part, stalled the renewal of the nation’s farm bill.
A single young woman told me a friend urged her to sign up for food stamp assistance. She balked for awhile, knowing it would likely take many months and waiting in long lines to prove her need. Unable to find a full-time job, leaning on her parents for help, she managed to get by, taking on a second part-time job, watching her spending, eating very little.
One day, a married co-worker with children said she was finally being forced to sign up for SNAP after her husband lost his part-time job, so the two women went together.
“Oh my gosh, it was so easy. It was ridiculously easy. There is no doubt in my mind that is one huge program that needs overhauled,” Ally said.
The irony of this is that lack of passage of a farm bill could distort many food costs for all, though we will not see doubling milk prices in the stores as people feared, since the House voted Dec. 12 to extend the 2008 farm bill through January, which also suspends permanent price supports.
Eventually, though, lack of funding for production of corn and sugar beets could drive up many other food costs.
As farmers attempt to plan their spring planting, much remains up in the air.
Changes in eligibility and work requirements are two things that have been mentioned in discussions of the need for change within SNAP. There is no doubt serious changes are needed.
In a perfect world, no one would need assistance. People who are willing to work hard would be paid well enough to put food on the table, and supply and demand would balance the scales for family farmers, who wouldn’t have to compete against mega-corporate agribusiness.
We can dream, because dreaming is still free!