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Photo by the Ohio Soybean Council.

Farm bill fiasco moves forward to conference

In a party-line vote of 216-208, the House of Representatives passed a stripped-down version of the 2013 Farm Bill, containing only farm programs. The bill also repeals permanent law. The reviews are mixed.

Some ag groups support it. Some act like they support it, kind of. Some parts of agriculture hate some parts of it, think some parts are OK and hate some of it. Democrats hate it. Republicans like it in a luke warm sort of way. But at least progress is progress, isn’t it? Or is this progress? Here is what some had to say about the half farm bill from the House.

“The American Soybean Association (ASA) is relieved that we will finally see a conference on the farm bill. However today’s approval by the House on a partial bill will mean nothing if we can’t get a bill back from conference that both chambers will pass. In that sense, there is still much work to be done,” said Danny Murphy, ASA president.
“ASA is opposed to the replacement of permanent law by whatever legislation may result from this process. If only Title 1 of a new farm bill is made permanent, other titles — including conservation, research, energy and trade — would risk not being reauthorized when the bill expires after five years, since Title 1 would remain in place. Also, we are very concerned that Title 1 of a new bill could include provisions that would distort plantings and production in years of low prices, and that it would be extremely difficult to change these provisions if the legislation were made permanent.

“ASA now calls on both the House and Senate to work in a bipartisan manner to craft a conference bill that has the ability to pass both the House and Senate and be signed by the President before September 30 when existing authorities for important risk management, trade expansion, conservation, bio-energy, and agricultural research authorities all expire.”

The National Milk Producers Federation was less than thrilled with the bill.

“The farm bill passed today by the House of Representatives is seriously flawed, in that it contains the Goodlatte-Scott dairy amendment, as well as a repeal of permanent agricultural law.  Neither of these measures serves the best long-term interests of dairy farmers,” said Jerry Kozak, President and CEO of NMPF. “The Senate, by contrast, overwhelmingly passed the complete Dairy Security Act, which the National Milk Producers Federation and nearly all dairy farmers enthusiastically supported.”

The National Farmers Union (NFU) was even less pleased, bordering on displeased.

“Today’s strictly partisan vote to pass the farm bill apart from the nutrition title undermines the long-time coalition of support for a unified, comprehensive farm bill which has historically been written on a bipartisan basis,” said Roger Johnson, NFU president. “NFU will continue to do all it can to get a reasonable bill through the conference process. Any final legislation must continue existing permanent law provisions and include meaningful safety net protections for both family farmers facing difficult times and the food insecure.”

The American Farm Bureau was predictably politically correct.

“The American Farm Bureau Federation looks forward to moving ahead with fundamental farm policy legislation, following House passage today of H.R. 2642. While we don’t yet know what the next steps will be, we will be working with both sides of the aisle and both chambers of Congress to ensure passage of a new five-year farm bill,” said Bob Stallman, AFBF president. “While we were hopeful the farm bill would not be split, nor permanent law repealed, we will now focus our efforts on working with lawmakers to deliver a farm bill to the president’s desk for his signature by September.”

Senate Democrats responded with predictable barbarism.

“The bill passed by the House today is not a real farm bill and is an insult to rural America, which is why it’s strongly opposed by more than 500 farm, food and conservation groups,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. “We will go to conference with the bipartisan, comprehensive Farm Bill that was passed in the Senate that not only reforms programs, supports families in need and creates agriculture jobs, but also saves billions more than the extremely flawed House bill.”

With the oft-discussed waning political clout of agriculture, does a food stamp-less bill have any chance of passing? And, if the separation of the farm programs makes it into legal reality, it paints a dire picture for the future of farm policy that has long lacked support from urban congressional districts that have traditionally supported the farm bill ONLY due to the nutritional components.

On the other hand, the farm bill is a top priority for future certainty in agriculture and splitting it may be the only way to get something passed due to the deep political divisions in the nutrition programs. Maybe the National Pork Producers Council has it right. NPPC and 26 of its state affiliates signed onto a July 2 letter, urging support for a Farm Bill. But prior to being sent to the House leadership, the letter was changed to include a statement of opposition if the nutrition title were split from the House Farm Bill.

“NPPC and its affiliates were not aware of that change and would not have signed onto the letter had they known about the change,” said Neil Dierks, NPPC CEO. “In fact, while removing the nutrition title is an unorthodox approach, NPPC and its affiliates support it if it leads to passage of a new farm bill, which is imperative to America’s pork producers.”

Then of course, there are farmers who are sick about hearing anything to do with the whole business and couldn’t care less if there even is a farm bill. They probably aren’t reading this any more.

What do you think?

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