Partial extension of farm bill troubles ag groupsThe extension wasn’t the version drafted by the chairs of the House and Senate agriculture committees.
By: Bob Mercer, Republic Capitol Bureau
PIERRE — The temporary extension of the farm bill that Congress passed on New Year’s Day wasn’t what two of South Dakota’s largest agricultural organizations wanted, their presidents said Wednesday.
But having something in place through September of this year gives Congress additional time to put together a new five-year plan.
And keeping much of the current farm bill for another nine months also avoids the chaos of suddenly reverting to a 1949 set of federal laws.
South Dakota Farmers Union President Doug Sombke, of Conde, described the extension as “a great disappointment.”
He said Congress “had every opportunity to pass a new five-year farm bill by the end of the year but chose instead to ignore its rural constituents.”
Making matters worse, according to Sombke, the extension wasn’t the version drafted by the chairs of the House and Senate agriculture committees.
He said it instead was one that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky developed.
The bipartisan work that had been achieved was discarded in order to avoid a possible big spike in milk prices paid by consumers, according to Sombke.
“The only thing I can say with any confidence is Congress threw both House and Senate committees under the bus,” he said.
South Dakota Farm Bureau President Scott VanderWal, of Volga, said the temporary extension was “probably the best we could do” given the late stage of the negotiations.
VanderWal said other provisions such as adjusting the alternative minimum tax and holding the estate-tax exemption at $5 million were probably more beneficial for many producers in the long run than the farm bill extension itself.
The problem now facing producers is uncertainty.
“We will be working diligently with Congress in the coming year to craft a good five-year farm bill which will allow farmers and ranchers to build a safety net under their businesses,” VanderWal said.
“As time goes on, however, it gets harder to get any attention as agriculture is increasingly taken for granted by lawmakers as well as the general public.”
Despite many months of work, Congress wasn’t able to get a new five-year farm bill passed in 2012 as the 2008 version expired last year.
Instead a partial, short-term extension was approved on Jan. 1, first in the Senate early that morning and then in the House late that evening, as part of the “fiscal cliff” package.
All three of South Dakota’s members of Congress — Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson and the two Republicans, Sen. John Thune and Rep. Kristi Noem — voted for the full package.
So did all of the senators from neighboring states of Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska, while Iowa’s two senators voted against it.
Among House members from the neighboring states, nine voted for it and 10 were against.
Action on a new farm bill stalled last year. The House refused to hold a vote after the Senate approved its version. That left producers and consumers facing 2013 without a firm way to plan.
Farmers Union and Farm Bureau officials were still sorting through the final provisions of the extension Wednesday.
It appeared that commodity terms and conditions will be extended for 2013 production, as will direct payments, dairy price supports and milk income loss contracting. Some changes were made in the dairy provisions.
Sombke said the House and Senate committees had previously agreed to eliminate direct payments as part of the new bill.
The Conservation Reserve Program’s maximum enrollment of 32 million acres would remain in place, but the wetland reserve and grassland reserve programs that expired Sept. 30 don’t appear to have been reauthorized.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the modern version of food stamps, would largely remain in place, but mandatory funding has been switched to discretionary for the SNAP employment and training program and the SNAP nutrition education and obesity grants.
A variety of renewable energy programs and related programs were reauthorized but didn’t receive mandatory funding.
Crop disaster programs don’t seem to have been reauthorized, while livestock assistance programs were identified for discretionary funding.
“This is a complete disappointment to family farmers, ranchers and dairymen of America,” Sombke said about the extension’s provisions.
VanderWal said the overall tax package created $41 of additional revenue for every $1 of spending cuts. He said the federal deficit hasn’t been addressed and the issue is more than the farm bill.
“It’s about the overall economy and its effects on our farm and ranch operations and our families,” VanderWal said.