Farm bill delay concerns producersAny wishes farmers and ranchers may have had that a new farm bill would be reauthorized by U.S. Congress before November were dashed last week when lawmakers departed Washington, D.C., for an election recess without passing legislation or making decisions regarding crop insurance coverage.
By: Betsy Simon, The Dickinson Press
Any wishes farmers and ranchers may have had that a new farm bill would be reauthorized by U.S. Congress before November were dashed last week when lawmakers departed Washington, D.C., for an election recess without passing legislation or making decisions regarding crop insurance coverage.
Last approved in 2008, the farm bill expires Sunday and Shirley Meyer, a farmer/rancher and state representative for Dickinson, is concerned by what non-action in Washington, D.C., could mean for producers at the local, state and national level.
“This is frightening to me,” she said. “We don’t know what will happen, but it says to me that they are looking at severe cuts that they didn’t want to have to do before the election, or that they want to get rid of crop insurance, which would be tough for farmers, especially with the drought conditions.”
Congress is required to recertify the legislation every five years.
Because there is no new legislation, in some areas, like commodity support, permanent statutes will kick in, according to the Congressional Research Service.
“I don’t know exactly what this will mean for me as a farmer and rancher, but if the automatic cuts start, I think everyone’s going to feel the pain, consumers too,” Meyer said. “People not involved in farming should care most because having a cheap, reliable source of food is the No. 1 security of any nation.We have always had an abundant, safe and affordable food supply, and the farm bill has helped to secure that.”
For Meyer, she said what most worries her is not knowing what Congress will do when it comes to offering crop insurance.
“What a disconnect in Washington,” she said. “It makes you wonder what they are thinking. Food is the No. 1 security of any nation, and we need to make sure that is not in question by passing a new farm bill.”
Part of that security, Meyer said, is due in part to the safety net that is provided by the farm bill.
“There has to be a safety net in a business like farming that has extensive capital cost,” she said. “We are victims of the weather and have to have a safety net so that we don’t go completely out of business. Agriculture is the heart and soul of a lot of people in North Dakota, and people here understand the need for a safety net.”
On behalf of farmers, 38 National Association of State Departments of Agriculture members, including North Dakota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, wrote a letter Sept. 18 to urge legislators to pass a farm bill.
“Without a farm bill, farmers will face significant challenges securing financing for planting next year’s crop, vital safety-net programs for dairy producers will lapse, livestock producers in drought-stricken regions of the country will be left without important disaster assistance, and important export promotion programs will be frozen,” the letter reads.
The farm bill provides farmers with risk management and production losses provisions that support farmers in case of disasters, allowing for a safe, more stable food supply.
The House Agriculture Committee and the entire Senate each passed versions of the bill this summer.
The House Agriculture Committee version of the farm bill is expected to reduce spending by $35.1 billion, compared to the Senate’s version $23.1 billion in cuts, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Continuing the 2008 farm bill would cost nearly $1 trillion over a 10-year period, according to the Congressional Research Service.
It is now up to the full House of Representatives to take up the legislation, where the legislation was stalled before Congress recessed last week.
U.S. Rep. Rick Berg’s, R-N.D., communications director Chris Pack told The Dickinson Press Berg believes the “House leadership has handled this entire farm bill situation poorly since it should have happened months ago.
“After Rick’s very frank and pointed conversations with leadership and demonstrations of strength from his bipartisan coalition over the past several weeks, the pressure to act on a long-term farm bill is growing,” Pack said. “There has been no stronger voice in Washington for a long term farm bill with a strong crop insurance program than Rick Berg. That is what Rick continues to fight for and is what he will continue to support.”
Pack said Berg believes it is time for Congress to do what is in the best interest of farmers by passing the Farm Bill as soon as possible.
“North Dakota farmers are out in the fields doing their jobs, and Rick thinks that House leadership needs to do theirs. The time for a farm bill is now,” Pack said.
When news broke last Friday that the farm bill would not be voted on in the House, Berg’s opponent for U.S. Senate, Heidi Heitkamp, questioned Berg’s commitment to its passage.
“Rep. Berg claimed to support the farm bill in North Dakota, but then in Washington voted the party line to cut crop insurance and slash $180 billion from farm programs,” Heitkamp said.
In July, the North Dakota Farmers Union held a two-hour forum in Belfield with about 20 farmers to discuss the proposed legislation.
The union’s president, Woody Barth, who farms east of Flasher, said Monday he was disappointed to see that the legislation was stalled by lawmakers.
At the forum this summer, Barth said the union backed the Senate version of the bill, although it lacked “a strong mechanism should commodity prices drop.”
“We had hoped that Congress would be able to come together, since the Senate passed a bill and the House ag committee passed a bill, but the House leadership stalled the process,” he said. “That’s disappointing.”
Barth said consumers should not be impacted in the short term by the inability of the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a new farm bill before November.
But he said it does create uncertainty for farmers and will likely mean tremendous scrutiny of the bill going forward, which could pose more obstacles for passing the bill.
“A major concern we have now is that additional guidelines will be brought forth on the farm bill in the lame duck session,” Barth said.