Continued Lack of Congressional Action On Farm Bill Raising Concerns

Jan 14, 2014

Credit WAMC/Pat Bradley

The Farm Bill sets the nation’s food, nutrition and agriculture policy agenda. It’s generally a five-year bill. The overdue legislation that is being negotiated in Congress expired in 2012 and its provisions have been retained through continuing resolutions.  The new Farm Bill was expected to receive a final vote shortly after Congress returned to session, but negotiations have stalled.

The Dairy Market Stabilization provision, part of a new margin insurance initiative, has emerged as a stumbling block in completing negotiations over the Farm Bill. Northeast Dairy Farmers Cooperatives Senior Dairy Policy Advisor Robert Gray notes that House Speaker John Boehner has repeatedly expressed his strong opposition to supply management programs.  “He feels that they interfere with the private market. He has voiced his opposition over two years ago about the dairy title, and just recently said he would not bring a bill to the House floor if that market stabilization provision was in it.”

Gray says the proposed market stabilization program would mitigate the peaks and valleys in dairy market prices to farmers.  “We continue to have these cycles where the price will go up and then off a sudden then it’ll drop precipitously. These peaks and valleys not only hurt dairy farmers financially, but it keeps adding the cost of milk to the consumer. This program would not take these peaks and valleys out. But it would mitigate them.”

NY Farm Bureau Spokesman Steve Ammerman says there had been a lot of positive comments coming out of Farm Bill negotiations in Washington, and they were optimistic that Congree might pass it by now. But Ammerman says after two years, he’s not surprised it has stalled once again.  “We are supporters of the supply management side, because any fluctuation, even small fluctuations in supply can have a very detrimental impact to our farmers. But on the House side, Representative Goodlott proposed this amendment to remove that from the Farm Bill and that’s what the debate hinges right now. Ultimately, we were supportive of the Senate bill that included the supply management side, and we are hopeful that that will remain in the final bill.

New York 21st District Congressman Bill Owens is calling on Boehner to help forge a final compromise. In a press release Monday, Owens says, “We have made great progress on the Farm Bill in the last few weeks because those involved have been willing to compromise. Speaker Boehner should work with members of both parties to get this done.”
In an interview last week on WAMC, Owens said he wants specific items retained in the Farm Bill.  “We need to see the dairy Security Act included. We need to see a much less reduction in food stamps than the 40 billion that House passed. We need to be closer to the Senate 4 and a half billion. I would like to see an amendment to FSA to make lending to family farms easier. And an apple export piece also included to make the exportation cheaper. We have another provision regarding maple syrup. But the critical pieces are the Dairy Security Act and food stamps.”

The New York Farm Bureau’s Steve Ammerman adds that passage of the Farm Bill includes what he describes as important and profound improvements that will save taxpayers billions of dollars.  “There’s so much more to this Farm Bill than just farm policy. There’s things in this like farmer market promotion programs to expand local food network in this country.  Money for rural broadband. A lot of programs for conservation and allowing our farmers some assistance to become more energy-efficient. So there so many things that are in this Farm Bill and it’s time to get this passed.”

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack expressed his disappointment over the lack of a Farm Bill during a speech at the annual conference of the American Farm Bureau Federation on Monday. Vilsack said “Passage of a Farm Bill is long overdue.....We need a five-year bill and we need it now.”