June, farm bill could be another mess

June 20th, 2013 Alan Guebert

June meant the end of school, the beginning of summer and the arrival of dairy month.Now, somehow, June has become the Golf Channel’s official Pace of Play Month, LGBT Pride Month (you can look that up) and Farm Bill Month.

Little wonder rural folks are cranky; enjoying frosty bowls of vanilla ice cream on the back porch has been replaced by angry brawls over ag spending in the halls of Congress.

This June’s farm bill, like last June’s farm bill and the still-in-effect June 2008 Farm Bill, clouds clarity and spotlights hypocrisy.For example, the 2013 Senate version, which  passed 66 to 27 June 10, is portrayed by politicians and farm groups alike as a budget-slashing, farm program-reforming effort.

Still costly

It’s estimated,10-year cost, however, according the Congressional Budget Office, is $955 billion, or twice the estimated cost ($284 billion over five years: http://www.farmpolicy.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/CRSFrmBillSpending10Oct7.pdf) of the 2008 law.

Additionally, a key “reform” section of the bill retains an “outdated counter-cyclical program with even higher fixed targets prices,” for peanuts and rice, says Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.

His colleague, Pat Roberts of Kansas, calls the throwback a “look in the rearview mirror.”

The scheme was added to garner — buy — farm bill support of Southern senators who wax poetic on the virtues of budgetary tea but never actually drink the stuff unless it’s “sweet tea,” a regional concoction loaded with taxpayer-funded giveaways.

In truth, the Senate bill holds enough clunkers to attract 25 (of the 27 total) “nays” from ag’s usually supportive, GOP corner.

Several came from key farm and ranch states: Two from Texas; one each from Illinois, Ohio and Wyoming and the aforementioned South Dakota and Kansas.Most didn’t vote against expanding crop insurance or costly counter-cyclical policies. They said no because Senate cuts in food assistance programs, $4.5 billion over 10 years, weren’t enough.

“Not enough” is the unofficial motto the House of Representatives, the graveyard of the Senate’s 2012 Farm Bill. After receiving it last June, House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor buried it by burying the House’s 2012 Farm Bill.

This year, though, each promises a floor vote on the House’s less-costly bill by the end of June. The leaders’ promises are probably good but recent reports from the Hill suggest their collective enthusiasm is not.

For example, on June 10, Politico held up the speaker’s well-known contempt for both the Senate and House bills’ dairy policy changes as symptomatic of how “Republicans are genuinely divided over the role of government in farm policy.”

Boehner will vote

In a June 12 interview with Politico, however, Boehner tamped down ideas that he could not bring home the bacon.

“I’m going to vote for the Farm Bill to make sure that the good work of the Agriculture Committee… gets to a conference” with the Senate, he offered.

OK, but steering any legislation — let alone a well-larded, $1 trillion farm law — through the GOP-dominated House will be a politically perilous journey for him. First, about 45 percent of the House’s 435 members have served less than three years and, as such, these 200 or so members have never voted on a farm bill.

Second, unofficial vote counts show about 80 of Boehner’s 234-member GOP caucus moving against him and the farm bill. Like the Senate Republican naysayers, they want deeper cuts to food assistance.

How much more?

On June 4, former House Ag Chairman and now Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., told a farm crowd that proposed House cuts to nutrition programs, about $2 billion per year for the life of the bill, would get — maybe — 150 Republican votes.

For the other 80 or so, he offered, “$100 billion [in cuts] wouldn’t be enough.”

If Peterson is even close to right, then the speaker’s pace of play on the golf course and in the House may be as long gone as those sweet Junes a generation ago.(

Farm bill still brewing in the House

June 18th, 2013 Chris Kick

SALEM, Ohio — U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he plans to vote for the 2013 farm bill, which is expected to be introduced to the full House later this month.

In a June 10 statement to media, he encouraged a “vigorous and open debate” and commended House Ag Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., for “including a number of positive reforms in this bill,” like the ending of direct payments to farmers and food stamp reform.

But Boehner doesn’t agree with all parts of the bill, especially the part that includes a new dairy safety net (Dairy Security Act), which includes a form of supply management and margin protection for dairy farmers.

“I had concerns about some of the dairy provisions of the farm bill last year, and those concerns remain this year,” he said. “I oppose those provisions and will support efforts on the House floor to change them appropriately.”

In support

In a statement June 12, the speaker confirmed he would vote in favor of the bill.

“I am going to vote for the farm bill to make sure the good work of the (House) Agriculture Committee, and whatever the floor might do to improve this bill, gets to a conference so that we can get the kind of changes that people want in our nutrition programs and our farm programs,” he said.

The Senate approved its version of the bill by a vote of 66-27, the evening of June 10. The bills are very similar, except the House bill calls for about $20 billion in additional cuts to the food stamp program.

Both bills include the Dairy Security Act, something the National Milk Producers Federation said is an important protection for dairy farmers.

“We encourage the House of Representatives to also support its Agriculture Committee-passed bill, and reject any dairy processor-backed amendment to undermine the bill’s effectiveness by removing the market stabilization program,” NMPF CEO Jerry Kozak said in a released statement.

Senate action

For the Senate, it’s the second time in a year senators have approved a farm bill. Last year’s House ag committee approved its version of the bill in July, but it was never considered by the full House, partly over concerns with the Dairy Security Act.

Most of the nation’s major farm organizations support the farm bill passed by the Senate, and are calling for swift action in the House, as well.

Very similar

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, outlined some of the major similarities between the bills:

• Both work to protect crop insurance and offer enhancements through new provisions such as the Supplemental Coverage Option, a program that allows farmers to purchase an area-triggered revenue or yield insurance product to cover the deductible associated with the underlying individual or area insurance policy. The SCO would be available for all programs except for cotton.

• Each bill offers a safety net with options for producers, specifically price-based provisions of particular interest to rice and peanut farmers and revenue-based provisions supported by corn and soybean farmers.

• Both bills maintain the marketing loan program while eliminating direct payments and other Title I farm programs. The savings from the elimination of the direct payments and other programs are used in each bill to fund new farm programs and to provide budget savings to go toward deficit reduction targets.• Both have nearly the same gross margin insurance program for dairy producers.

NFU weighs in

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said “it is promising to hear that House leadership is embracing the 2013 farm bill.”

He said the bill makes “significant, much-needed reforms to agriculture programs, including significant deficit reduction. The farm bill also prevents the necessity for emergency ad hoc disaster programs, which almost always represents deficit spending.”

NFU also supports the bill’s elimination of direct payments, saying “American farmers need a safety net in times of natural disaster and long-term price collapse, not when conditions are more favorable.”

U.S. Senate approves farm bill

June 11th, 2013 Chris Kick

SALEM, Ohio — The U.S. Senate passed the 2013 Farm Bill 66-27 during an evening vote June 10. It cuts $24 billion in spending and is the second time the Senate has approved a five-year farm bill in a year.

The Senate last approved a farm bill in June of 2012, which died after a lack of action in the House.

The bill seeks to eliminate unnecessary direct payment subsidies to farmers, consolidates programs to end duplication and cracks down on food assistance abuse. It appears to be backed by most of the nation’s largest farm organizations, which gave statements Monday evening to media.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. said the bill is a bipartisan victory.

“Because we worked across party lines to streamline programs, we were able to save tax dollars while investing in initiatives that help boost exports, help family farmers sell locally and spur innovations in new bio-manufacturing and bio-energy industries,” she said in a statement to media.

What’s included

Instead of subsidies that pay out every year, even in good times, the bill creates risk management tools that support farmers when they are “negatively impacted by weather disaster or market events beyond their control.”

It also eliminates more than 100 programs and cracks down on abuse.

House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said he was pleased with the decision and expects the House will consider the bill the week of June 17.

“It’s going to be difficult, but if everything stays on track, I believe it’s possible to get a bill to the president before the August recess, finally providing some certainty for our farmers, ranchers and consumers,” he said in a statement to media.

Food stamp issue

The House and Senate versions of the bill are similar in many areas, but the House version calls for about $20 billion in cuts to food stamps (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), while the Senate cuts just $4 billion.

There also is some speculation that the House and Senate will disagree over previsions related to the Dairy Security Act, which provides a new safety net for dairy farmers.

But for now, the Senate and House bills include the act, and have received praise from the nation’s largest dairy cooperative — National Milk Producers Federation.

“On this strong bipartisan vote, the Senate has again shown its determination to put politics aside and work to implement new and better policies for America, including the country’s dairy farmers,” said NMPF President Jerry Kozak.

The Dairy Security Act establishes a voluntary margin insurance program allowing farmers to better manage the risks of milk price and feed cost volatility. The measure also includes a market stabilization program to improve the cost-effectiveness of the program, helping farmers and tax payers.

Both the Ohio Soybean Association and Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association had good things to say about the bill.

“After facing one of the most difficult seasons in decades with the drought of 2012, we are pleased to see the Senate recognized the need and importance of a safety-net for Ohio’s farmers,” said Tadd Nicholson, OCWGA executive director.

“The crop insurance program remains one of the most important tools available to Ohio farmers when they face circumstances beyond their control and we are grateful the committee chose to support the program.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the bill includes provisions that he helped author, especially for local foods programs as well as production agriculture.

Provisions from Brown’s Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act are expected to help Ohio farmers and ranchers sell directly to consumers.

The farm bill also builds on the “Grow it here, Make it here” initiative, which would boost the manufacturing of bio-based products made with agricultural materials. Ohio has about 130 companies that currently make bio-based products, including from waste streams, renewable plant, animal, marine and forestry materials.

Want action

The House Agriculture Committee approved its own farm bill 36-10 in May. Farm organizations say they hope the progress in the House continues.

“We encourage the House of Representatives to also support its agriculture committee-passed bill, and reject any dairy processor-backed amendment to undermine the bill’s effectiveness by removing the market stabilization program,” Kozak said.

He added, “Prompt action in the House is necessary so that farmers won’t spend the last half of this year like they spent 2012: Expecting a harvest that never materializes.”

House and Senate ag committees approve 2013 farm bill

May 17th, 2013 Chris Kick

WASHINGTON — The House and Senate ag committees both approved their respective versions of the farm bill this week, the House by a vote of 36 to 10, and the Senate approval was 15-5.

Senate Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, in teleconference May 16 with reporters, said the bill supports 16 million jobs that are directly connected to agriculture.

“There is not a bigger jobs bill that will come before the Congress than what we call the farm bill,” she said.

But the majority of the bill traditionally goes toward food stamps and nutrition assistance programming — a major point of difference between the House version.

The Senate bill would cut about $4 billion over five years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, while the House seeks to cut more than $20 billion.

“I absolutely reject the level of cuts and the way this is done in the House,” she said.

Stabenow said 47.5 million Americans get federal food assistance, which she mostly blamed on a weak economy.

“This is about providing help when it’s needed,” she said. “As the economy fell apart a number of years ago, many families who have paid taxes and worked hard all their life, have found themselves in a situation where they had to …. ask for help.”

Savings and reforms

House Ag Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said the bill his committee approved included “significant savings and reforms.”

In a released statement, he said “no other committee in Congress is voluntarily cutting money, in a bipartisan way, from its jurisdiction to reduce the size and scope of the federal government. I appreciate the efforts of my colleagues and the bipartisan nature in which this legislation was written and approved. I look forward to debating the bill on the House floor this summer.”

Lucas estimates the House bill saves nearly $40 billion by eliminating outdated government programs and reforming others.

Both versions of the bill go a long way in reducing and combining programs, especially for conservation.

The House version repeals or consolidates more than 100 programs, and consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13 — about the same as the Senate bill.

Both parties predict a lot of progress this summer, and a strong possibility for a new five-year bill before fall.

“Needless to say this process has gone on far too long and it is past time to get this bill done,” said Collin Peterson, D-Minn., ranking member of the House Ag Committee.

“With today’s (May 15) action, I’m optimistic the farm bill will continue through regular order and be brought to the House floor in June. If we can stay on track, I think we should be able to conference with the Senate in July and have a new five-year farm bill in place before the August recess.”

Farm Bureau is optimistic

American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman said he is optimistic about the progress.

“This provides a great reason for optimism we will have a new long-term farm bill this year,” he said in a released statement. “That belief is further supported by the fact that the bills are more striking in their similarities than in their differences. Both bills provide a solid start for a farm bill that serves America’s farm and ranch families.”

Both bills include a strong shift in risk management, away from government funding and into more crop insurance.

“The emphasis on crop insurance as a risk management tool, combined with flexibility that the measures offer through other safety net choices, will go a long way in ensuring a stable agricultural economy over the next few years,” Stallman said.

House bill highlights:

• Saves nearly $40 billion in mandatory funds, including the immediate sequestration of $6 billion.

• Repeals or consolidates more than 100 programs.

• Eliminates direct payments, which farmers received regardless of market conditions.

• Streamlines and reforms commodity policy while also giving producers a choice in how best to manage risk.

• Includes the first reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) since the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, saving more than $20 billion.

• Consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13, improving program delivery to producers and saving more than $6 billion.

• Builds on previous investments to fruit and vegetable production, farmers markets, and local food systems.

• Includes several regulatory relief measures to help mitigate burdens farmers, ranchers, and rural communities face.

Senate bill highlights:

Eliminates direct payments. Farmers will no longer receive payments when prices are rising and support is not needed. Ending these subsidies and creating responsible risk management is a major shift in American farm policy. Caps remaining risk management support at $50,000 per person.

Ends Farm Payments to Non-Farmers. This bill closes the “management loophole,” through which people who were not actually farming—in many cases not even setting foot on the farm—were designated as farm “managers” so they could receive farm payments

Requires conservation compliance for crop insurance, which will protect both the farm safety net and the natural resources that our nation’s farmers and ranchers will need for generations to come

Strengthens crop insurance and expands access so farmers are not wiped out by bad weather; includes disaster relief for producers hurt by drought, spring freeze, and other weather disasters; reforms farm programs, ending direct payments and implementing market-oriented programs to help farmers manage risk saves $16 billion dollars ($12 billion in the bill, $4 billion through sequestration).

Consolidates and Streamlies Programs. By eliminating duplicative programs, funds are concentrated in the areas in which they will have the greatest impact, reducing the deficit while strengthening top priorities.  The Senate Farm Bill eliminates over 100 programs and authorizations under the Agriculture Committee’s jurisdiction.

For example: The bill consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13 programs—while maintaining existing tools to protect and conserve land, water and wildlife.

Streamlining programs provides added flexibility and focuses conservation around four primary functions: working lands conservation, the Conservation Reserve Program, regional partnerships, and easements to help prevent sprawl and protect wetlands

Improves program accountability. At a time when many out-of-work Americans are in need of food assistance for the first time in their lives, it is more critical than ever that every dollar go to families in need. By closing loopholes, cracking down on abuse and improving program integrity, the Farm Bill reduces the deficit without cutting standard benefits or removing any needy family from the program.

• Increases accountability in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by stopping lottery winners from continuing to receive assistance, preventing states from providing $1 per year in home heating assistance to individuals who do not have a heating bill for the sole purpose of providing extra benefits above what they would normally receive; ending misuse by college students whose families are not truly low-income; cracking down on retailers and recipients engaged in benefit trafficking; increasing requirements to prevent liquor and tobacco stores from accepting food assistance benefits.

• Continuing growth in America’s diverse agricultural economy. The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act increases efficiency and accountability, saving tens of billions of dollars overall, while still strengthening agricultural jobs initiatives through:

• Export opportunities to help farmers find new global markets for their goods.

• Help for family farmers to sell locally, increasing support for farmers’ markets and spurring the creation of food hubs to connect farmers to schools and other community-based organizations.

• Training and access to capital to make it easier for beginning farmers to get off the ground.

• Initiatives to help American veterans start agriculture businesses.

• Growth in bio-based manufacturing (businesses producing goods in America from raw agricultural products grown in America) to create rural agriculture and urban manufacturing jobs.

• Innovation in bio-energy production, supporting non-food based advanced biomass energy production such as cellulosic ethanol and woody biomass power.

• Research to promote the commercialization of new agricultural innovations.

• Rural development initiatives to help rural communities upgrade infrastructure, extend broadband internet availability and create a better environment for small businesses.

House and Senate ag committees take action on new farm bill

May 14th, 2013 Chris Kick

WASHINGTON — The House and Senate Agriculture committees have both announced new versions of the farm bill they plan to revisit in coming weeks, with the potential for full congressional consideration over summer.

As of Monday, May 13, the Senate had scheduled its markup of the bill for May 14, while the House planned to do the same May 15.

The bills are similar in nature to what both committees proposed in 2012, before the bill died in the House. They include a price protection program for dairy farmers, and have gained widespread support among the major ag organizations.

“It’s a responsible and balanced bill that addresses Americans’ concerns about federal spending and reforms farm and nutrition policy to improve efficiency and accountability,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., in a released statement.

Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said the bill the House has drafted “sets us on a path to finally completing a five-year farm bill. Peterson said the House bill resembles the bipartisan bill passed by the agriculture committee last summer, including reforms to dairy programs.

What’s included

The House version saves nearly $40 billion in mandatory funds, repeals or consolidates more than 100 programs, eliminates direct payments (which farmers had received regardless of market conditions), reforms commodity policy, saves more than $20 billion in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.The bill also consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13, and builds on previous investments in fruit and vegetable production and farmers markets.

Senate version

Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said the Senate’s version of the bill represents “the most significant reform of American agriculture policy in decades.”In a released statement, she said the bill ends unnecessary subsidies, streamlines and consolidates programs and cracks down on abuse, while reducing the deficit by billions. The Senate farm bill would yield a total of $23 billion in cuts to agriculture programs (including cuts made due to the sequester).

The bill would end direct payments and place more emphasis on private sector risk management, cap remaining risk management support at $50,000, end farm payments to nonfarmers, strengthen crop insurance and include disaster relief policy, consolidate 23 conservation programs into 13, increase accountability among SNAP recipients, and continue to support diverse ag enterprises like local foods, bio-energy and rural development.

Milk perspective

Jerry Kozak, president of National Milk Producers Federation, said the organization is pleased that the farm bill unveiled by the House (and Senate) agriculture committee contains dairy program reform provisions based on the Dairy Security Act. They are the same provisions that were included in last year’s bill that the House ag committee approved.

Kozak said the DSA updates the “badly frayed” dairy safety net, and it enjoys strong support among dairy farmers nationwide.

“The alternative to the DSA, expected to be offered by Reps. (Bob) Goodlatte and (Bobby) Scott, is unfortunately not fiscally responsible and could return us to the bad old days of huge price-depressing dairy surpluses,” he said in a released statement.

Partly pleased

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said he is pleased to see that target price protection was included in the bill.“The inclusion of stronger protection against long-term price collapse for all commodities in all regions is also a step in the right direction,” he said in a released statement. “The strong support for crop insurance is also a positive element for U.S. family farmers and ranchers for when natural disasters strike.”

But Johnson said NFU is “deeply disappointed” that the energy title has no mandatory funding for programs “that are critical to our country’s energy independence” and ending our reliance upon foreign oil.He also criticized the cuts to SNAP.

“Just as farm safety net programs are important for farmers facing hardship, nutrition programs provide critical assistance to consumers in difficult times,” he said. “I encourage the House to strongly consider a more moderate approach when reducing funding for programs that help the food insecure in this country.”

The 2008 farm bill expired in September of 2012. Congress approved an extension through Sept. 30, 2013. Ag organizations say it is important to get a new five-year bill done before the current bill expires.

New farm bill a priority for 2013

March 8th, 2013 Chris Kick

More coverage of the farm bureau trip to D.C.

WASHINGTON, D. C. — It’s still anyone’s guess when the next farm bill will be passed, with House Speaker John Boehner saying very little on the matter during a forum he helped host March 5, for members of Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.

“We had a really tough time last year trying to get to the farm bill,” he said. “We are going to do a farm bill and I expect the Senate will do a farm bill as well.”

He offered few specifics on a new bill and when it might be done, noting he didn’t want something to get out that might “make people uncomfortable.”

The last farm bill expired Sept. 30 and a one-year extension was approved in its place, as part of the fiscal cliff package.

It looked as though a farm bill was on track in 2012 — with bipartisan support in the Senate and House Agriculture Committee. But the bill was never taken up by the full house, where Boehner predicted it would fail for lack of votes.

Food stamps

A big concern, he said, is the amount of funding that goes toward the food stamp program. About 80 percent of the “farm bill” actually goes to nutrition programming, leaving a meager 20 percent for farmers.

“The really big fight will be over how big of changes we’re going to make over the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program),” he said.

Several Republicans have also expressed concern with supply management of the dairy industry — a key part of the bills written in 2012.

U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, said he was opposed to the bill in 2012 because it provided target prices for certain commodities, and also because it deviated from market fundamentals, by allowing for supply management in dairy.

He argued for a more market-driven bill, versus one that is built on government regulations.

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown spoke to farm bureau members over breakfast March 6. Brown thanked farm bureau members for their participation in his statewide round tables — about 15 in all — which he used to gather and relay information back to the Senate Agriculture Committee in putting the bill together.

He is among a host of Democrats and Republicans, including U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who have been outspoken in pushing for a full five-year farm bill.

How much savings?

The Senate approved its version of the bill in June, and the House Ag Committee did the same in July. Both bills were expected to be substantial savings. Over 10 years, the Senate version was expected to save $23 billion and the House version was expected to save $35 billion.

However, new estimates released in early March from the Congressional Budget Office reveal the savings will likely be much less. The savings from the Senate bill are now estimated at just $13 billion, and the House bill, if enacted, would save $27 billion. 

Whenever Congress does pass a farm bill, it could be trimmed even more, due to the ongoing budget battle.

“It’s going to be even more challenging with the cuts that are going to cut more out than what we probably were talking about last year,” Gibbs said.

National Dairy Producers Conference Farm bill, immigration reform on tap

March 8th, 2013 Other News

ARLINGTON, Va. — The outlook for a new farm bill, and a better safety net for dairy farmers, will be one of the key sessions at the upcoming National Dairy Producers Conference April 7-9 in Indianapolis.

The conference, open to dairy farmers from across the country, will provide a discussion of the issues facing the dairy industry, with educational discussions on topics ranging from farm policy to immigration reform to agricultural finance.

The meeting is organized by the National Milk Producers Federation.

Farm bill

On April 8, a two-hour session will address the prospects in 2013 for the NMPF-backed dairy reforms contained in the 2012 farm bill.

That session will feature presentations from congressional staff, NMPF leadership, and agricultural economists — all discussing the outlook for getting the Dairy Security Act passed this year, and how that measure would benefit farmers.

Although the DSA came close to passage at the end of 2012, the agriculture committees in the House and Senate will have to restart the farm bill process this spring. The NDPC panel will review how that process will unfold, and will examine why a dairy margin insurance program with market stabilization will provide better financial protection for farmers compared to current programs.

Immigration reform

In addition to reviewing the farm bill, the conference will include another session about the prospect for immigration reform legislation on Capitol Hill, with presentations from individuals representing dairy farmers, the White House and Congress.

The National Dairy Producers Conference will also examine the state of the agricultural banking sector as it relates to dairy farming. A trade policy panel will address how the U.S. can both protect and promote its dairy products in world markets, while a panel on dairy cow marketing will focus on the marketing of cull dairy cows.

2013 outlook

Guest speakers include Purdue agricultural economist Christopher Hurt, who will review the outlook for feed prices this year, and Bill Weldon of Elanco, who will discuss new ideas under development for products to enhance a dairy cow’s productivity.

The NDPC sessions will be preceded by an optional farm tour that will take place April 7. Participants will be able to get an insider tour of Fair Oaks Farms, one of the largest dairies in the country, with a consumer education facility.

Although the conference is geared primarily toward dairy producers, anyone with a stake in the dairy industry is invited to attend.

Deadline

The hotel registration deadline is March 14.

More information on the NDPC is available at www.nmpf.org/NDPC.

American Farm Bureau delegates want risk management in farm bill

January 17th, 2013 Other News

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Voting delegates to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 94th annual meeting in Nashville earlier this month voiced support for a bipartisan, reform-minded farm bill, crafted around a broad, flexible, crop-insurance-based program, including risk-management protection for peanuts, rice, forage and specialty crops.

“We will push hard, in cooperation with our congressional and administration allies, for a five-year farm bill that provides our farmers certainty and extends much-needed risk management tools across more acres and more crops,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman, a rice and cattle producer from Texas.

Delegates said AFBF would not only support a farm bill with a strong safety net and risk management programs to protect farmers from catastrophes, but they also would work for programs that provide emergency assistance for livestock and tree producers not covered by federal crop insurance programs.

Delegates reaffirmed policy supporting changes to the dairy safety net, consistent with the margin insurance programs included in versions of the farm bill approved by the House and Senate ag committees.

No raw milk support

On another dairy issue, delegates approved a new policy that states only pasteurized milk and milk products should be sold for human consumption.

Other key issues

On national fiscal policy, delegates reaffirmed the importance of a sound budget process with a priority on spending restraints rather than tax increases.

Delegates also voted to support streamlining or replacement of the H-2A seasonal and temporary agricultural worker program in addition to allowing experienced, undocumented agricultural workers to adjust to legal status.

Biotechnology

Recognizing the important role played by agricultural biotechnology and rapid developments in the industry, delegates expressed continued support of a private-sector, industry accord to govern how biotech traits are managed when patents expire.

They also reiterated support for the continued implementation of an industry solution that promotes investment and marketability of new technologies.

Delegates voted to support greater flexibility within the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. Specifically, they voted to oppose mandatory limits on calories and serving sizes for lean meats, protein-rich foods and dairy products.

The policies approved at the annual meeting will guide the nation’s largest general farm organization in its legislative and regulatory efforts throughout 2013.

Leadership vote

The delegates newly elected three state Farm Bureau presidents to the AFBF board of directors: Richard Bonanno of Massachusetts (Northeast Region), Jimmy Parnell of Alabama (Southern Region) and Don Shawcroft of Colorado (Western Region).

Fourteen other state Farm Bureau presidents were re-elected to represent their regions on the AFBF board of directors: Midwest Region: Craig Hill of Iowa, Kevin Paap of Minnesota, Don Villwock of Indiana and Wayne Wood of Michigan. Southern Region: Ronnie Anderson of Louisiana, Kenneth Dierschke of Texas, Zippy Duvall of Georgia, Mike Spradling of Oklahoma, Lacy Upchurch of Tennessee and Larry Wooten of North Carolina. Northeast Region: Dean Norton of New York and Carl Shaffer of Pennsylvania. Western Region: Perry Livingston of Wyoming and Paul Wenger of California.

Zach Hunnicutt, a crop farmer from Nebraska, was elected the new chairman of the AFBF Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee, which also makes him a member of the AFBF board of directors during his one-year term.

Terry Gilbert of Kentucky was re-elected to serve a two-year term as chair of the AFB Women’s Leadership Committee and on the AFBF board of directors.

2012 farm bill: Cliff walking in clodhoppers

January 10th, 2013 Alan Guebert

In an almost endless stream of post-vote analyses Jan. 2, Capitol Hill pundits focused mostly on who the political winners and losers were in the Christmas-to-New Year’s Grinch-vs.-Grinch brawl to “save” the nation from a “fiscal cliff.” </p><p>That’s to be expected because it’s a lot more fun to read about sandbox fights between 7-year-olds than reason-driven debates between well-educated adults. Lost in the holiday ugliness, however, was the failure of Congress to pass a 2012 farm bill. </p><p><h3>Dairy cliff</h3></p><p> Sure, America was saved from the “dairy cliff” but you and I should not have been on any cliff to begin with. We were placed there by politicians playing a can’t-win game of I-win, you-lose politics. How this played out for farmers and ranchers is both informative and instructive. </p><p>Farm bills used to be simple; not so in 2012. When the House Ag Committee, the historic leader in farm bill writing, blew through 2011 without action, its counterpart, the Senate Ag Committee, took over. To its members’ credit, a “reform” farm bill — that contained little real reform — passed the Senate in a bipartisan 64-35 late-June vote. </p><p><h3>Cotton vs. soybeans</h3></p><p> That vote, however, held trouble. Four Senate Republican Ag Committee members were among the 35 nays. Southerners all, they preferred a bill titled more toward rice and cotton than the currently-favored corn and soybeans. </p><p>That geographic split was — is — common in farm bills. What was uncommon about these four, however, was that one was — is — Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s Republican leader. A few eyebrows were raised when the party’s boss voted against a clearly bipartisan farm bill. </p><p>House Ag Committee members completed their bill in late July. It, too, packed trouble despite a commanding 35-11 bipartisan committee vote. That trouble became evident when Speaker of the House John Boehner slipped the Committee’s bill into his suit jacket and went home. He later returned; the bill never did. </p><p><h3>Farm bill</h3></p><p>Boehner’s refusal to bring the farm bill to the floor for an up-or-down vote has been explained several ways. The most common is that the bill’s $16.5 billion cut in 10-year food stamp spending wasn’t enough for his many in party’s tea drinking wing so he simply sat on the bill while waiting for a better path for it to pass. </p><p>The explanation has merit. After all, cutting $16.5 billion out of more than $750 billion of food assistance spending in the coming decade hardly seems like any cut. </p><p><h3>Dairy reforms</h3></p><p> Another explanation is that the bill’s dairy reforms, also contained in the Senate bill, rankled Boehner. No one knows if this son of greater Cincinnati understands dairy policy — it’d be news if he did — but everyone on Capitol Hill knows that dairy processors hated the changes. Boehner, in turn, took to calling the pending dairy policy “socialism” and “Soviet-style central planning.” </p><p>Boehner and McConnell’s differences with each bill would hardly be noteworthy if not for the key role each would play in the fiscal cliff talks. </p><p><h3>Big deal foiled</h3></p><p> Boehner’s hard effort to meet White House demands stumbled when he went back to his Republican caucus to take their temperature on a nearly-completed “big deal” the week before Christmas. He got his head handed to him when GOP tea party members held their hard line against any new taxes. </p><p>Poetically, perhaps, most of those no-new-tax House members were the very same rural and Ag Committee members who earlier had demanded a vote on a farm bill. Speaker Boehner had denied them because he thought it far-too-rich. Now they denied him. </p><p>Cotton and rice price protection. That put the burden of negotiating any fiscal cliff deal on Senate Republican leader McConnell. Recall he had voted openly, almost happily, against the Senate farm bill in June because it lacked cotton and rice price protection. </p><p>With that same bill as the working model for any fiscal cliff-farm bill-New Year’s deal and McConnell as the chief GOP negotiator, no 2012 farm bill was the likely outcome and, to no one’s surprise, no 2012 farm bill it now is. </p><p>Why any of this is surprise, however, is, well, a surprise. When the bottom line to any Congressional deal must include a political I-win, you-lose score, you and I will always lose because we’re not politicians. We’re just Americans.</p><p>

Expired farm bill extended, but farm groups question the benefit

January 2nd, 2013 Chris Kick


(Updated Jan. 2. Updates being made.)

See what a couple Ohio State University Extension experts are saying about the bill.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — We will have a farm bill for 2013 — at least through September.

In a Jan. 1 vote to prevent the nation from going over the so-called fiscal cliff that would have increased taxes on the middle class, Congress also approved a nine-month extension of the 2008 farm bill, which expired the end of September.

The legislation was titled House Resolution 8, “The American Taxpayer Relief Act.”

The farm bill extension, though, is about as divisive as the process that led to its creation and passage. It does not include a new dairy safety net program many producers insisted was necessary, including the nation’s largest milk lobby organization — the National Milk Producers Federation.

“The Senate’s vote earlier today (Jan. 1) on a nine-month extension of current farm policy is a devastating blow to the nation’s dairy farmers,” said Jerry Kozak, president of NMPF, in a statement to media. “After months of inaction, the plan that passed overnight as part of the fiscal cliff package amounts to shoving farmers over the dairy cliff without providing any safety net below.”

Dairy farmers across the country had united behind the Dairy Security Act provisions in the original farm bills that had already been approved by the full Senate, and by the House Agriculture Committee.

NMPF said “it’s little more than a New Year’s Day, hair-of-the-dog stab at temporarily putting off decisions that should have been made in 2012 about how to move farm policy forward, not offer more of the same.”

Halting taxes

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said progress has been made, but not enough.

“It is critically important that the U.S. Senate has come together to prevent tax increases on middle class families and small businesses, extend unemployment benefits for those struggling to find a job, and end tax breaks for millionaires our country can no longer afford,” she said in a statement to media. “This agreement accomplishes that, providing certainty for families and businesses and allowing our economic recovery to continue.

However, she said she is “deeply concerned” about “an incomplete farm bill extension that ends funding for important parts of the bill, including disaster assistance, while continuing costly taxpayer subsidies that were ended in the farm bill passed by the Senate.

She promised that the Senate Ag Committee will “once again begin work in the new year to enact a new Farm Bill that works for our farmers and rural communities as well as American taxpayers.”

The National Farmers Union called the bill “ineffective.”

“Once again, Congress has left rural America out in the cold,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “An extension represents a short sighted, temporary fix that ultimately provides inadequate solutions that will leave our farmers and ranchers crippled by uncertainty.”

Some good, for now

The American Farm Bureau Federation said the fiscal cliff package “injected a good dose of certainty into our nation’s tax policy,” calling it a “major achievement.”

AFBF said the measure restored the $5 million exemption level for the estate tax, which was in danger of falling to just $1 million. On the minus side, the top estate tax rate increased from 35 percent to 40 percent. Permanent capital gains tax provisions that retain lower rates was a positive point, as was the inclusion of enhanced expensing provisions for businesses.

But the organization called the extension of the 2008 farm bill “little more than a stop-gap measure.”

“We are glad that a measure is in place for most of this year, but we are disappointed that Congress was unable or unwilling to roll a comprehensive five-year farm bill proposal into the fiscal cliff package. Now, it will be up to the new 113th Congress to put a new farm bill in place, and we will continue to insist on the kind of reforms that were included in the proposals approved by the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee during the 112th Congress.”

(Dec. 31, 2012)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With just hours left in the year, and three months after the 2008 Farm Bill expired, Congressional leaders are considering an extension of the same legislation.

House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas has proposed a one-year extension, with support from Ranking Member Collin Peterson and the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“Clearly, it is no longer possible to enact a five-year farm bill in this Congress,” Lucas said in a statement to media. “Given this reality, the responsible thing to do — and the course of action I have long encouraged if a five-year bill was not possible — is to extend the 2008 legislation for one year. This provides certainty to our producers and critical disaster assistance to those affected by record drought conditions.”

It’s unclear if or when the House may vote on the resolution. Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s voicemail was full at presstime, and an email to his press secretary seeking a statement was unreturned.

The “new” farm bill seemed to have been on track throughout most of 2012, with Senate passage of a bill in June, and a similar bill passed in July by the House Agriculture Committee. But the bill would go no further — stalling in the House with no votes taken.

What they’re saying

The delays have drawn criticism from Democrats — who say the inaction by the House will hurt both the economy, and the food supply.

“The House Republican leadership has put us in a situation where we risk serious damage to our economy unless we pass a temporary extension,” Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said in a statement to media.

Stabenow said the extension has the potential to stop milk prices from spiking — a concern addressed by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who appeared on CNN’s State of the Union and warned that milk prices could revert back to a 1949 statute that would see prices double.

“It is critical that we pass a five-year Farm Bill that gives farmers and ranchers the certainty they need to plan for the future,” Stabenow said. “If a new Farm Bill doesn’t pass this Congress we’ll soon hold another mark-up and just keep working until one is enacted next year.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown blamed the House for refusing to consider the bill, saying important reforms in the Senate-passed bill will now “go down the drain.”

He added, “at this late hour, ensuring farmers have the certainty necessary to continue providing American consumers with a safe and affordable food supply is vital — and extending the current farm bill for nine months is the best way to do this.”

Farm organizations

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said the organization “is deeply disappointed in the dysfunction of Congress. The members’ inaction leaves significant uncertainty for farmers and ranchers trying to plan for the 2013 planting season without knowing the coming year’s policies.”

Johnson said farmers across the nation have spoken “time and time again” that they want a new five-year farm bill. His organization held a joint rally with Ohio Farm Bureau Federation in the fall, to help bring about a new bill.

Johnson said some of the programs in “peril” include renewable energy and conservation programs, livestock disaster assistance, beginning farmer and rancher programs, and much of the farm safety net, including dairy programs.

If it comes down to extending the current bill, he said Congress “should do so by fully extending all 2008 programs, such as the disaster, energy and beginning farmers and ranchers programs.”

The Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association said Congress should make a New Year’s resolution of getting a comprehensive, five-year bill done early in 2013.

Director Tadd Nicholson said a “short-term Band-Aid” is better than no action, but falls short of what farmers truly need.

“Versions of the farm bill considered by the House and Senate for months would have saved at least $23 billion in the federal budget, including significant fiscally responsible reforms initiated by grain farmers,” Nicholson said. “Instead of taking that savings, Congress allowed the farm bill to get caught up in Washington politics and postponed their work for another day.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation has not released an opinion on the proposed extension, according to Tracy Taylor Grondine, media relations director.

Related coverage:

2013 ag outlook meeting includes farm bill discussion (Dec. 4, 2012)

Election’s over, now what about farm bill? (Nov. 13, 2012)

Farm bill likely to stall (Sept. 18, 2012)

Santa, if you can’t bring a combine or a farm bill, how ’bout some hay?

December 13th, 2012 Alan Guebert

You, my friend, are one tough customer for Santa. I mean, like many, the Fat Man knows food, but he doesn’t know farming.

As such, he gets lost in the jargon when trying to pick the perfect gift for you and your farming and ranching pals.

For example, just last week Old Kris texted to ask if I thought you wanted “something big” for Christmas. He suggested a completed farm bill with either direct payments or 95 percent crop insurance coverage.

Yep, that’s what he asked

It’s not mystery why: The man spends his long nights warmed by the glow of his computer screen, not a warm fire. He reads. Everything. The Times, the Journal, Successful Farming. He follows several food blogs and (just between you and me) never misses Page Six of the Post.

Anyway, I nixed the farm bill idea; he couldn’t have pulled that fried chestnut from the Yule fire anyhow.

So I texted back: No 2 FB. K 2 Case IH A-F 9230 w/40 flex draper. Hey, if you’re going big, go big.

“No go, Don Draper,” came his near-instant reply.

Well, well, Santa isn’t so well read that he knew the difference between a combine that does everything and a fictional Madison Avenue hired man who can’t do anything.

9230 combine w/40′ 2162 draper header, I texted.

Two seconds later, my phone beeped: “3R 2 SC: no combines.”

I dialed 1-800-MY SANTA.

“Sorry,” Santa offered after a ho or two, “but Rudolph” — duh, 3R: Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer — “said the combine was too red. I’m thinking something lighter, greener, like the climate change agreement discussed in Doha two weeks ago.”

Oh boy

Santa was wearing his natural fleece long johns again.

“You know,” the Bearded One went on, “a climate deal will keep the Corn Belt in the Corn Belt, the deserts in the desert and polar bears on the Poles. Besides, without snow, I look like just another fat man in a tight suit with too many pets.”

You’re talking truth, Big Guy, but Doha? That’s where diplomats go to hold funerals for global treaties, not finalize ‘em. I mean — HELLO! — the WTO’s latest trade talks started in Doha… in 2001… and no one has seen ‘em since.

“Fair point,” Santa acknowledged, but I could hear his brain cells jingle.

“Hey, what about a Facebook page for every farmer and rancher? I mean, they operate GPS, juggle millions in cash flow and market commodities in a global market so how hard could Facebook be?” he wondered.

Sigh

“Did you just sigh?” SC asked. “Look, according to the latest Social Media Report, Americans spent 121 billion minutes on social media in July. That’s 230,060 years, according to the report, ‘posting, liking and tweeting’ in just one month!

“Do you want to bet that only four of those minutes were burned by American farmers and ranchers?” he asked in a rising voice. “Come on, it’s time for change!”

Whoa, there, Kris My Man; change? Who do you think farmers and ranchers are — Episcopalians? Sure, social media is probably bigger than television and radio combined, but I’m guessin’ most ranchers would more appreciate a round bale or two of quality hay right now and just about every farmer is prayin’ for mild, wet winter.

“Hmm, hay. That’s good,” came the calm reply. “I’ll see what’s in the barn.”

And a warm, wet January from the Rockies to Maryland? Or, failing that, maybe three or four weeks of dry, hot weather in Brazil and Argentina next month?

Silence

OK, maybe just a brief dry spell in Brazil?

“This is Christmas,” admonished Santa, “I’ll leave that job for the guy in charge of Halloween. I’ll see what I can to about a wet winter here, though.”

That’d be big.

“I said no combines.”

K.

Lame ducks holding up the farm bill

December 6th, 2012 Alan Guebert

On the face of it, few things carry a more apt name than today’s “lame duck” Congress. Indeed, how lame is it that after two years of raw partisanship and paralyzing inactivity, we believe two legislative bodies that haven’t agreed on what day it is since 2010 will — what — reform taxes, pass a 2013 budget, complete a 2012 farm bill and “save” Medicare and Social Security all in the next 30 days?

This Congress? The one with 39 House members fired by voters in 2012 and 22 others who wanted out so badly they didn’t even stand re-election, let alone 12 senators currently looking for both lobbying jobs and book publishers?

On second thought, maybe the truly lame ducks are us, because we believe this dysfunctional Congress can complete in one month the work it couldn’t do in two years.

Poor odds

What’s not lame is the galacticly long odds that any “fiscal cliff” package will be wrapped up by Dec. 31. In fact, most on Capitol Hill put the odds at intergalacticly long.

The best proof that either bet is right is November. Half of the eight weeks between Election Day and New Year’s Eve have passed with little to no discussions between any of the key players on any aspect of this massive task.

The Washington Post noticed this silence over Thanksgiving. In a Nov. 23 story outlining where the post-election power lies in the Senate, the newspaper noted that Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA, “has been arguing that missing the deadline for a deal — going over the cliff — could actually make getting a deal easier.”

Murray’s view is important. Since she replaces retiring Kent Conrad, D-ND, as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee in January, any “fiscal cliff” deal must go through her. If she believes a post-Jan. 1 deal is better — mostly because of Democratic gains in both the Senate and the House Nov. 6 — then a post-Jan. 1 deal becomes more likely.

Amid this cliff-watching, the Senate-passed farm bill still naps in the House. Talk of any Dec. 31 “grand bargain” often includes a line or two on how the farm bill could be part of the package.

Hopeful

That chatter, though, is more hopeful than accurate. Since farm bill discussions began two years ago, Speaker of the House John Boehner has promised “regular order” for any vote on an updated ag law.

That means members can offer amendments to the farm bill, a process loaded with time-burning talk and roll call votes. Moreover, the Boehner promise guarantees a farm bill debate would burn four days of the preciously short December House calendar.

The Speaker can abandon his regular order promise but the move likely would be challenged by his caucus’s tea party members who believe several farm bill programs — direct payments and fast-growing food assistance to name just two — need a haircut.

As such, an intra-party squabble is something Boehner can ill-afford, especially if a “fiscal cliff” deal comes to the House some time in December.

Problems

The flip side of that coin, a House-approved farm bill, presents its own problems. The biggest, again, would be time needed for a House-Senate conference to iron out differences between the two bills before a final version heads back to each chamber for a conclusive vote.

The odds of this happening lengthen every day that passes without White House or Congressional action. One agreement between the White House and Congress could, however, deliver a farm bill, a tax reform bill, a federal deficit reduction plan and a blueprint to solidify key American — and heavily rural — programs like Medicare and Social Security: agree to move the Dec. 31 deadline to, say, Sept. 1, 2013.

Lame, sure. But we’re dealing with ducks here. And there, too.

2013 ag outlook includes farm bill, food price issues

December 4th, 2012 Chris Kick

COLUMBUS — Ag economists and farm policy experts drew some final conclusions about 2012, and cast some insight into the new year during the Ag Policy and Outlook Conference, held Dec. 3 at the Nationwide and Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center in Columbus.

The meeting has historically been regarded as the Dean’s preview, sponsored by Ohio State University’s dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. And it was the newly appointed dean, Bruce McPheron, who got the program started.

McPheron is an Ohio native and earned his undergraduate degree from Ohio State. He previously served as dean of the College of Ag Sciences at Penn State.

“We are the most important industry in the world because there is not a person in this world who does not wake up in the morning aspiring to shake our hand,” McPheron said. “In fact they (consumers) want to shake our hand three times a day if they can.”

Food availability and affordability were dominant topics throughout the day, as experts weighed in on everything from population growth to food riots, and what farmers can expect in 2013.

Farm bill

Ohio State Farm Policy expert Carl Zulauf weighed in on a policy that could both help farmers and consumers, and one he hopes will be resolved by the end of this year: the new farm bill.

“I honestly believe we will get it done this year, but there is a distinct possibility we won’t get it done,” he said.

Similar versions of the bill have been approved by the full Senate, as well as the House Agriculture committee, but the bill has yet to be considered by the full House, which in September declared a vote would not happen until after November elections.

Zulauf also is a farmer, and stands to gain or lose depending on the actions taken. As a professor, he has tracked the progress closely and believes a bill could be approved fairly soon, if Congress cooperates.

“I’m struck by how similar (House and Senate) these bills are,” he said. “These are really conferenceable farm bills in a variety of different ways, if Congress has the will to do it.”

As Zulauf pointed out, both bills eliminate direct payments, retain marketing loans, make risk management the safety net’s central focus, make individual crop insurance the central safety net program, and add a county insurance supplemental coverage option.

What’s different?

The major differences, he said, are the size of cuts to nutrition programs. The Senate version provides for a $4 billion cut over 10 years, compared to $16 billion in the House version.

The bills also differ on whether the Farm Service Agency should administer a farm level risk management program, and whether the multiple-year risk management program should focus on price (House version) or revenue (Senate version), and have benchmarks that are fixed (House) or change with market conditions (Senate).

Zulauf said he feels the most important changes in the farm safety net are the supplemental coverage option, and the Dairy Production Margin Protection Program.

The supplemental coverage option, or SCO, allows a farm to buy county insurance as an “add-up” to its individual farm coverage. Coverage can be bought up to 90 percent.

Zulauf said crop insurance is both a risk management program, and also a payment program somewhat similar to a direct payment. If a farmer pays for crop insurance over enough years, there is an expectation that he will receive more in payments than he pays in premiums.

“It can be looked at as a strategic investment,” Zulauf said.

Food prices

Ian Sheldon, Andersons Professor of International Trade at OSU, discussed the ways country governments respond to high food prices. He noted that many developing countries respond by enacting their own trade policies and the release of public stock, which collectively with other countries, actually increases the price of food.

Instead, he said countries should avoid direct market invention, and should instead use targeted safety nets like food stamps and cash transfers.

He showed a graph of major political unrest the past eight years, which appears to correlate strongly with the high price of food. When enough countries develop their own trade policies, it actually sends food prices higher, he explained, and adds to the issue of world food price instability.

The daylong event featured a wide variety of ag topics for the new year. Some of the information will appear in upcoming editions of Farm and Dairy.

Election’s over, now what about farm bill?

November 13th, 2012 Chris Kick

SALEM, Ohio — Last week’s ballots weren’t even tallied before the conversation switched to the fate of the next farm bill.

The current bill stalled in the House in October, even though the Senate version passed with bipartisan support in June and the House Ag Committee approved its measure in July.

“The election is over so it’s time to get to work,” said House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn., in a statement to media. “I’m optimistic that, if given the chance, we have the votes to pass a five-year farm bill.”

He expects a vote could happen any day, and encourages swift action.

“There is no good reason not to vote on the bill when we return [Nov. 13], before Thanksgiving,” he said. “This will give us the time we need to work out our differences with the Senate and get a new five-year farm bill signed into law by the end of the year.”

Calls to House Speaker John Boehner’s office were unreturned at presstime.

Boehner, R-Ohio, said in September the House would not vote on the bill until after the elections.

“When we get back after the election, we will consult with our members and develop a pathway forward,” he said, adding “it is too early to determine right now what kind of mood members are going to be in and what kind of opinions they are going to have.”

Two directions

Carl Zulauf, farm policy expert with Ohio State University, said he sees two likely scenarios.

One is for the House to consider passing the current bill and confer it with the Senate, before the end of the lame duck session, or before Christmas.

The second option is an extension of the farm bill that expired Sept. 30. Zulauf said it would likely be for a one-year period, but could differ.

A big factor could be the debate over “fiscal cliff,” a term that defines several laws, which, if unchanged are expected to cause an increase in taxes due to the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts, and a decrease in government spending.

Zulauf said Congress can take quick action on the bill, if it wants.

“I learned a long time ago Congress can move relatively fast,” he said. “In fact, it can surprise you how fast it can move if the will is there to do it.”

But he’s still not sure whether it will most likely be a long-term bill, or a temporary deal.

“I’ve always believed that there are times when you just have to be on the Hill,” he said, adding this is one of those.

The American Farm Bureau Federation issued a statement congratulating President Barack Obama on his re-election, saying, “we (farmers and ranchers) cannot wait until 2013 for the action to start. Serious work on the farm bill, the fiscal cliff and critical tax policy fixes all must start during the lame duck session of the 112th Congress.”

(Reporter Chris Kick can be reached at 330-403-9477, or at ckick@farmanddairy.com.)

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

October 11th, 2012 Judith Sutherland

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.

The farm bill gamble could be costly

October 4th, 2012 Alan Guebert

A long, bitter year in the long, bitter Congressional session drifted into the campaign season with the U.S. House of Representatives unable or unwilling to butter the softest piece of legislative toast before them, the 2012 Farm Bill.

Speaker of the House John Boehner attempted to telegraph that likely outcome two months ago as Congress ran out of town for its August recess.

That he couldn’t organize his caucus for a farm bill vote at the height of a devastating drought was a surprise. A far bigger surprise was Boehner’s failure to organize his members for a farm bill vote after the recess’s five weeks of jabbering and jawboning.

Are we to believe that the Speaker of the House is so powerless in his own caucus that he cannot pat enough knees or twist enough arms to pass a pretty bipartisan, mostly non-controversial farm bill that would likely benefit every GOP candidate in every reliably red state in rural America this November?

Not likely, the Speaker could have steamrollered a vote. In fact, if the conservative wing of his caucus wanted more cuts to food assistance programs — a claim they made in denouncing the House Ag Committee’s 10-year cut of $16.5 billion from food stamps in the bill’s $969 billion of overall spending — Boehner could have delivered that chance through the amendment process during floor action. But he didn’t; why?

Figuring it out

One explanation is that any move to alter the Ag Committee’s bill on the House floor faced a coalescing wall of urban Democrats and rural, tea-tinged Republicans who either thought the food aid cuts were too deep (the Dems) or too shallow (the Repubs).

As such, the Speaker couldn’t find the necessary Republican noses to move forward for a vote. The Dems certainly weren’t going to save his political bacon and GOP conservatives clearly wanted more of what they called farm bill fat in the frying pan.

Separately, but together, they stymied the speaker. Another, more likely explanation is that Boehner couldn’t risk a vote on food assistance funding because his political opposition, led by the Ag Committee’s former chairman, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, probably would have won either vote.

The Minnesota Democrat, with but a handful of Republicans, probably could have held the line on the bill’s food aid budget and, probably, would have played a similar role to defeat any amendment demanding deeper cuts.

Probably is the operative word for two reasons. First, neither vote was held so we simply don’t know either outcome and, second, neither was held because — probably — the Speaker knew the outcome: Defeat.

Boehner, after all, is product of the House and you don’t ascend to the thin air of Congressional leadership without a Ph.D. in vote counting. Neither outcome, both harmful to the Speaker’s standing, was something the nation’s highest-ranking Republican wanted six weeks before an election to determine the political make-up of Congress and the White House.

Doing nothing

Still, the move to do nothing is a gamble several of his GOP colleagues in tight election races around the country must now address. For example, North Dakota’s freshman Republican House member, Rick Berg, has seen his Senate race against Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, the state’s former attorney general, tighten since Boehner failed to move the Farm Bill through his GOP-dominated House.

Berg calls the Speaker’s handling of the whole process “poor.” Worse for farmers, ranchers and rural communities is Boehner’s recent promise to “deal with the Farm Bill after the election.”

Asked what that meant — an extension of the current law or a vote on the Ag Committee’s rewrite — the Speaker would only say he probably doesn’t have the votes to pass either now.

So what’s a vote in an after-election, lame duck session — with the same members carrying even more political baggage and facing even tighter deadlines on even bigger issues — gonna’ do? It’s a gamble that carries nothing but trouble for the Speaker, his colleagues and you.

Farm bill most likely to expire

September 18th, 2012 Chris Kick

LONDON, Ohio — Sept. 30 will come and go with action taken in the House on the expiring 2008 farm bill. And don’t expect any until after the November elections.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, while taking questions during a Sept. 21 news conference, indicated the full House will not vote on the farm bill until after November elections.

“When we get back after the election, we will consult with our members and develop a pathway forward,” he said, adding “it is too early to determine right now what kind of mood members are going to be in and what kind of opinions they are going to have.”

The House delays have drawn criticism from farmers across the country, but Boehner said House leaders “don’t typically put bills on the floor where we are expecting certain failure.”

The Obama Administration and the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture have also expressed frustration over the House vote delay.

“In a year that has brought its share of challenges to America’s farmers and ranchers, the House Republicans have added new uncertainty for rural America,” Sec. Tom Vilsack said in a statement to media.

Speaking at the Farm Science Review Sept. 18, Vilsack said he fears a “hidden agenda of sorts.”

“In the Ryan budget that was passed, there was a $50 billion reduction in commodity, conservation and crop insurance provisions,” Vilsack said, “and I fear that that is really the goal here, to get this wrapped up into a much larger discussion about deficit reduction and tax policy, and then make the case that farm programs and the safety net have to be cut even further.”

The background

The U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan version of the farm bill in June and the House Agriculture Committee passed its version of in July, but the full House failed to take up the bill before its Sept. 30 expiration.

But this will not be the first time the farm bill expires before a new one is renewed.

“It’s more common than not common that the farm bill expires before another one is approved,” said Carl Zulauf, ag policy expert with Ohio State University, speaking on a panel discussion Sept. 18 at the 50th Farm Science Review.

However, “What’s uncommon is not to pass some kind of short-term extension,” said Katharine Ferguson, rural policy director for U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

Without an extension, farmers could be left without a disaster plan to handle the difficult year they just experienced, and wondering if and when one will be approved.

Cost savings

Zulauf said there is an “enormous incentive for farmers to act on this farm bill,” and one is the cost savings. Both the Senate and House Ag versions already save between $23 and $36 billion.

That’s in addition to the incentive of helping farmers and the nation’s nutrition programs, which depend on the bill.

One of the biggest changes in the current farm bill is the elimination of direct payments to farmers, and a stronger emphasis on risk management, mostly in the form of crop insurance and better crop insurance programs.

“The next farm bill will be about crop insurance and the cost of crop insurance,” Zulauf said. “It costs $5 billion a year now. It’s no longer a small program. We are at that point where we will be taking a hard look at that.”

Budget process

Part of the change is due to record profits in the crop commodities, but also an overall tightening of the federal budget.

Ferguson said the Senate bill combines some key programs and cuts some others, in ways that are “radically different” than the farm bill discussions in 2008. The biggest reason, she said, is “the budget process.”

One farmer asked the panel why food nutrition programs are permitted to use the majority of farm bill funds, for programs like food stamps.

Roberts said part of the reason is, the bill represents rural as well as municipal regions of the country, and amounts to “a political compromise,” to include all interests.

Because House legislators failed to act before their recess, farmers will have to wait until the lame duck session in November to learn the fate of the farm bill.

Farmers to rally in Washington for a new farm bill

September 5th, 2012 Chris Kick

SALEM, Ohio — Two of the nation’s largest farm lobby organizations and what appears to be most of the major commodity organizations are planning a rally in Washington, D.C. Sept. 12, to encourage House lawmakers to act swiftly in voting on a new farm bill.

The current farm bill expires Sept. 30, and farm leaders say they’re working together to get a bill passed that will help them over the next five years, and during recovery from this year’s historic drought.

“Congress is coming back into session (Sept. 10),” said Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union. “We need them to pass the farm bill.”

The bill was approved by the Senate June 21, and the House Ag Committee July 12, but has not yet been taken up by the full House.

“This has been an uphill struggle from the beginning but we’ve crossed every hurdle so far,” Johnson said.

Johnson will lead the event along with American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman. Johnson said the farm bill has been a bipartisan effort so far, and he hopes it will remain bipartisan.

“At the end of the day a bill is produced and while each of us may prefer to change certain parts of that bill, the value of that bill is larger than not passing that bill,” he said.

The details. The rally will be held at Union Square at the Capitol Reflecting Pool and will begin at 11 a.m. Eastern Time. It is being called the Farm Bill Now rally. It’s unclear what all will be involved, but Johnson said organizers will speak and he hopes to have some Congressional leaders speak, as well.

Farmers and the organizations that represent them are especially concerned about the historic drought, which in some states is the worst in 50 years. They say a bill is needed to help farmers through the current year, and into the next five.

“We appreciate all of the work done to date by Congress and look forward to working with the House to get a farm bill passed and into conference as soon as possible,” Stallman said in a released statement. “In light of the drought, it is imperative for America’s farmers that a farm bill is passed this year.”

Johnson said the House could consider the bill through conference committees, or directly on the House floor. He said he doesn’t care how it happens, as long as it’s done.

“We are indifferent as to the process,” he said. “The current bill expires the end of September. We want a new bill by the end of September.”

More about the rally is available at www.farmbillnow.com.

Time running out for farm bill, amid record drought, uncertainty

August 14th, 2012 Chris Kick

WOOSTER, Ohio — The countdown is on until Sept. 30, when the nation’s farm bill — last approved in 2008 — is set to expire.

The U.S. Senate approved a bipartisan five-year farm bill June 21, and the House Committee on Agriculture passed its version of the bill July 12 with a vote of 35 in favor and 11 opposed.

But the bill has yet to be taken up by the full House, which is now on recess until Sept. 10. The House would have about 20 days to pass the bill if it plans to approve something before the current bill expires.

In the short-term, the House has passed a disaster assistance package called the Agricultural Disaster Assistance Act of 2012, to help farmers who are facing significant financial loss as a result of this year’s record-setting drought.

Separate bill

The disaster bill is not a replacement for the farm bill, House Ag Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said after the vote.

“This is not a long-term solution, but it takes care of the problem until we can get a five-year farm bill on the books and put those policies in place,” Lucas said in a statement to media. “I am committed to giving certainty to our farmers and I plan to work toward that goal when we return in September.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said a long-term plan is essential because farmers need long-term certainty.

“If they [House] just want to do a one-year, that doesn’t get us to where we need to go,” he said during a media conference call Aug. 1.

Brown and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke about the importance of a full farm bill Aug. 3 at the Ohio State Fair. If the farm bill isn’t passed by Sept. 30, Brown said it probably won’t get done until after elections and will become entangled with other discussions — like taxes, unemployment and budget cuts.

More cuts to farming

It will likely mean even deeper cuts to the farm programs, if the bill is delayed.

Those “risks to rural America are too great,” Vilsack said, adding it’s “a serious risk if this thing gets mixed up in the larger discussion about across-the-board cuts and defense spending and tax cuts. I guarantee you rural America will rue the day the House didn’t take action.”

U.S. Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, said passing a farm bill before Sept. 30 “is a priority.” He recently visited with farmers in northwest Ohio, who are experiencing some of the state’s worst drought conditions.

“As one of the largest agricultural districts in the state, many farmers have expressed the need for stability to make planning decisions,” he told Farm and Dairy in an email. “Disasters, such as the drought, are inevitable and unpredictable, but knowing what will be available to farmers will help to mitigate the impacts of harsh farming conditions.”

The nation’s largest crop and livestock organizations have expressed frustration over the farm bill uncertainty, and some say the disaster package is a political tool.

In a letter to Congressional leaders, dated Aug. 2, farm organizations said they “do not oppose passage of a disaster assistance bill, but note that almost identical provisions to retroactively extend these four programs are included in the Senate-passed farm bill and the bill reported by the House Agriculture Committee. …

“It is imperative that we pass a comprehensive, long-term farm bill. Farmers and ranchers always face decisions that carry very serious financial ramifications, such as planting a crop, buying land or building a herd, and we need clear and confident signals from our lawmakers.”

Duplicative step?

Roger Johnson, president of National Farmers Union, said all of the programs in the disaster bill could be extended for the full life of the 2012 farm bill, if it were enacted.

“This duplicative step only wastes precious legislative time,” he said in a statement to media.

“This proposed disaster package is designed to make it appear as though Congress is taking action to help farmers in need before members go home to their districts this month. However, this ill-considered action only holds farmers hostage with uncertainty, and does nothing to address specialty crops, dairy, commodities and other non-insured produce.”

Fixing a problem

But Lucas, in his Aug. 2 testimony, insisted the disaster package was because the 2008 farm bill did not provide a final year of disaster assistance.

“I have heard people calling this ‘extending disaster assistance by a year,’” Lucas said. “No. What we are doing is fixing a problem. We are backfilling a hole or fixing a deficiency. … We have a drought. We don’t have a disaster program. I am here to provide a solution.”

U.S. House stalls farm bill progress

August 10th, 2012 Alan Guebert

Journalism school doesn’t make cynics out of people who pick up the pen for a living.

Committing journalism — using the pen to chronicle the escapades of crooks and crackpots you encounter as a journalist — often does, though.

A glaring example of this transformation arrived in the late July action of Speaker of the House John Boehner. No one, not even the most ink-covered, nicotine-stained journalist could have foreseen the Speaker’s cynical use of the worst drought in 50 years to paper over his colleagues’ failure to act on a needed farm bill.

Like the current drought, Boehner’s dilemma grew worse over the summer. After a year of dull talk and even duller hearings, both Congressional ag committees completed their 2012 farm bill work by mid-July.

Bipartisan effort

The full Senate, in a rare display of bipartisanship, even passed its bill June 21. But the House held any chance to get the two versions welded together before the 2008 act expires Oct. 1.

Boehner kept the House bill back because it contained too few spending cuts for the tea-drinking wing (nearly 90 votes) of his Republican majority.

Indeed, the Committee-passed bill pared just $35 billion from its 10-year spending plan of $969 billion and just $16.5 billion of that from what everyone still calls the food stamps, now SNAP, program.

That tissue-thin slice — 1.6 percent! howled tea party activists — from food stamps meant Boehner needed Democratic votes for the House to pass the committee bill.

Worse, he needed those votes before Congress went on its five-week August recess so staffers could “conference” the two versions to have any chance to meet the farm bill’s Oct. 1 deadline.

The Dems, however, were never going to pull Boehner’s bacon out of the tea kettle. Their party’s power is urban-based and those representatives want more food aid, not less.

In fact, this farm bill’s proposed farm-to-food-aid ratio — four out of every five farm bill dollars go to nutrition programs — is largely why for 50 years rural House members have delivered farm bills filled with food stamps and, for 50 years, their urban colleagues have delivered farm bills to farmers and ranchers.

Doomed to fail

No farm bill has ever or will ever move without that rural-urban coalition to fuel it. So Boehner, in a bind, took a page from today’s toxic playbook and devised a doomed-to-fail scheme to extend the current farm bill one year so that when it failed, and it would, he could place the blame anywhere but on himself and his divided Republican Party members.

The device designed to do just that was a 47-page bill that didn’t just extend the 2008 law through October 2013; it all but rewrote it.

For example, explained the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Boehner’s plan not only cut “farm conservation programs by $761 million,” it also “effectively terminate(d)… all farm-bill funded rural economic development, renewable energy, organic agriculture, local food and beginning and minority farmer programs…”

And, the NSAC went on, it did so with “no open deliberations, no hearings, no testimony, and no chance for amendments.”

The Speaker, of course, could have cared less. His job wasn’t for the House to pass his bill or any bill. His job was make it appear that failure — and failure was in the air before he ever uttered the words “farm bill” in late July — lay at the feet of Dems while giving his party’s tea drinkers something to chew on other than him.

Widespread opposition

But the jig was up even before it got to a vote. Almost every farm group canned the speaker’s plan from the start. The cynicism in it was so evident and so transparent that everyone with a scoop shovel or pitchfork in the farm bill fight saw through it in an instant.

So, now, several more months will pass without the House doing the simple job of passing its farm bill.

Which reminds me, when’s Election Day?