No voice in D.C., means no farm bill

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While we wait, the farm bill was left lying on the floor of a bickering Congress, like a bunch of defiant kids who refuse to pick up their toys, then get to go out for recess anyway. And in the face of it all, we are expected to believe that the title of the legislation is related in some way to its total contents.

Big impact

This stalemate may eventually impact all farmers, but presently dairy farmers are hit worst of all, as they operate at a loss in the face of soaring hay, grain and fuel prices.

The Milk Income Loss Contract has expired, along with the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which will accept no new sign-ups. For dairy farmers, their cows still need to eat, and they still need to be milked, in spite of the fact that milk sells for less than it costs to produce.

Farm bill expiration

The massive farm bill has been described as a hodgepodge of laws, items thrown together under the ridiculous umbrella termed “agriculture.” The farm bill expires as I write this, with no temporary net put in place, and no serious discussion of separating out some of the bill.

The summary alone of this bill is 17 pages long, and at the core of the issue is the food stamp program.

In the 1960s, the Supplemental National Assistance Program was put in place, but at that time, food assistance came in the form of food, not stamps, as the country tried to help the urban hungry benefit from the rural food supply. Surplus commodities included in this program were such things as peanut butter, chicken and cheese.

Small part of budget. It is not the fault of farmers that at some point this became a food stamp program that has its share of issues. Place the blame on legislative maneuvering for the fact that the food stamp program encompasses nearly 80 percent of the total cost to taxpayers in the farm bill, a flawed idea in the first place.

But keep in mind, this still only represents about 2 percent of the federal budget.

Instead of a mutually beneficial food assistance plan that essentially put excess food where it needed to be, we have a food stamp program that demands serious scrutiny.

This, it would seem to me, is reason enough for the food stamp program to be moved far away from the farm bill. Instead, this stall and political posturing is costing many dairy farmers what little profit they need to go on while they work harder than ever.

Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners executive director Russell Libby has said, “This year, the agreement is falling apart because there’s such a strong voice in the House to cut the food assistance program that it’s preventing the rest of the farm bill from moving forward. You have the fiscally conservative voices in the House who, in a sense, are voting against their constituents — the rural interests — in the interest of the budget.”

Agriculture alone

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need any of these programs; in a reasonable world, the farm bill would impact agriculture alone.

Libby predicted this farm bill might be the last that combines agriculture and food stamps, but others are doubtful, saying that dividing them could have consequences.

Urban areas are now home to two-thirds of the U.S. population. “You need a chunk of those votes if you’re going to pass a bill in the House,” Libby said.

Described as “wishful thinking,” nearly every farmer I know would like to see the farm bill and food stamp issue addressed in separate bills.

Safety net

In the meantime, we have to hope for extension of a temporary safety net to protect dairy farmers as soon as possible, even though that assuredly would not make all of the problems go away.

No one can go in to the red every milking time and expect to stay in business. Apparently, only our government gets to operate that way for long, not those who make up the working class.

About the Author

Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college. More Stories by Judith Sutherland

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