The main thing Americas agricultural producers need is certainty and predictability, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, says when asked about the new farm bill being developed in Congress.
Roberts is right. Unfortunately, the farm bill thats been in force for the past five years expired Sunday, and a House-Senate conference committee negotiating a new version remains far from agreement. Ag committee leaders say theyll work things out after the November elections. But much remains uncertain as to when theyll finish and whether they can reconcile key differences between the House and Senate.
Thats hardly providing the nations farmers and ranchers with the needed certainty and predictability.
Funding for some major parts of the just-expired farm bill crop insurance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps receives protection by law and will continue even though Congress failed to meet the Sept. 30 farm bill deadline. As a result, funding for some other farm programs would expire over several months; the dairy program, in December, would be the first to lapse.
Without a new farm bill, the Conservation Reserve Program would continue to operate but could not approve new contracts or do anything beyond honoring prior agreements.
Thirty-nine other farm programs would see their funding end right away, until new legislation is passed. Those programs currently account for $2.8 billion of the $489 billion in approved five-year spending for the farm bill that just expired.
The Congressional Research Service says the programs include certain conservation programs; most of the bioenergy (including biofuels), rural development, and research title programs; various nutrition title pilot programs and studies; organic agriculture and farmers market programs; trade promotion programs; and outreach to socially disadvantaged and military veteran farmers.
Roberts says he is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to explore options for continuing support for those programs while the conference committee continues its negotiations.
The House-Senate conferees have to reconcile differences on a range of complex issues. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, is the one Midlands lawmaker on the conference committee.
The most noted issue separating House and Senate negotiators involves work requirements for able-bodied SNAP recipients and, specifically, whether the federal government should set stricter limitations that would deny waivers to state governments on who is eligible for food stamps. Were really down to the waivers, says Rep. Collin Peterson, R-Minn., the senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee.
Among many other issues to be decided: farm payments for the cotton sector, a decision with major budgetary consequences for the bill; eligibility for certain types of farm entities to receive payments; and possible extra payments to farms hit by drought during 2008-12.
As lawmakers work through these and other challenges, they need to keep their eye on the right priority: giving producers the certainty and predictability they deserve.
The Omaha World-Herald
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