Coalition pushing House to act on farm bill
With the backdrop of one of the nation’s biggest farm shows, leaders of major agricultural groups declared they expect members of Congress to spend their precious few legislative days next month passing a five-year farm bill before the current legislation expires.
The coalition “Farm Bill Now” has grown to 46 ag groups and is pushing leaders of the House of Representatives to bring the House Agriculture Committee’s bill to the floor for a debate and vote. Members of the coalition spoke last month at the Farm Progress Show in Boone, IA.
Ideally, the ag groups would like to see swift movement from passage on the House floor to House and Senate leaders pushing the agriculture committees to promptly hold conference talks.
Time is short. When Congress returns Sept. 10, lawmakers will have eight days in session before the current farm bill expires at the end of the month. There are 13 total legislative days until lawmakers shut down to campaign for Election Day.
Pam Johnson, first vice president of the National Corn Growers Association and an Iowa farmer, said agriculture remains a bright spot in the overall economy. Delays in the bill could wreck the overall positive trends in the sector.
“This year with the drought is a very visible example of why we need a farm bill now,” Johnson said.
Farm bills have traditionally been bipartisan endeavors, Johnson said. She also said the Farm Bill Now coalition is a diverse group that reflects a variety of views on policy, but all want to see certainty in getting the legislation adopted.
“Very rarely do you hear of so many groups getting together under one joint message,” Johnson said. “And when you do hear that, you should listen.”
Highlighting the challenges of the drought for farmers may be difficult in the coming weeks as USDA issued a report stating that net farm income is pegged to be a record $122.2 billion for 2012, up 3.7 percent from 2011. If realized, that would be an all-time record, USDA reported.
Chris Petersen, president of the Iowa Farmers Union, said the main justification for getting legislation done is the ability for farmers and bankers to understand the safety net possibilities next year and begin planning accordingly. Without that, bankers may be reluctant to commit to operating loans.
“Well, financial security is the first thing that comes to mind, getting along with the banker,” Petersen said, adding that bankers want to know the rules of the farm programs and how they affect operating income. “If these guys don’t get this passed now, it’s going to create a whole bunch of issues for farmers.”
Petersen, however, is an independent pork producer who sells into a niche market. As a pork producer, there isn’t a direct disaster program that would specifically help with drought or the price of livestock feed.
Steve Wellman, president of the American Soybean Association, who farms around Syracuse, NE, said farmers are counting on Congress to come back with renewed focus. Wellman said jobs tied to agriculture, as well $134 billion in ag trade, could be hurt if lawmakers are unable to approve new farm programs for the next five years.
“In the face of this year’s unprecedented drought and related challenges, farmers need the certainty provided by a five-year farm bill,” Wellman said.
He also criticized efforts to adopt a one-year extension or attempts to split the commodity programs from nutrition programs in the bill.
Dennis Slater, president of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, spoke for the coalition’s broader agribusiness interests. The farm bill is broad and is critical to supporting more than 200,000 jobs in agricultural machinery. Farmers could delay machinery or other technology purchases if they are unclear how they will be affected by the farm bill, Slater said.
“The ripple effects really could put a damper on our economy,” Slater said.
Craig Hill, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau, said the differences between the House and Senate versions of the farm bill are relatively minor and could easily be hammered out in conference talks— once the House steps up and passes its bill.
“We have similar bills that can be easily conferenced,” Hill said. “When you think about all of these groups coming together after all the battling we do amongst ourselves, we have come together for one thing—to get the farm bill completed.”
Hill also said farmers will spend this fall working longer hours to harvest a difficult crop. There is no reason the House could not work a few more days if necessary to complete an important piece of legislation. “Don’t you think the House owes it to us to work a day or two longer to get this done?” Hill said.
Both versions of the farm bill eliminate direct payments. The Senate bill creates a new risk management program meant to supplement crop insurance. The House Agriculture Committee bill includes an optional target-price program that may favor some crops, but has drawn criticism as possibly distorting planting decisions. The two bills also are about $12 billion apart on cuts to nutrition programs over 10 years.
“We might argue about the details later but we all support the goal of passing a farm bill now,” said Iowa farmer Ron Heck, a board member for the 25x’25 renewable energy coalition.
The Farm Bill Now coalition will hold a rally at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 12. — Chris Clayton, DTN