After a long, hot summer, prospects for a new Farm Bill in 2012 are wilting fast. If Congress doesn’t act within the next few weeks, the current Farm Bill will expire Sept. 30 without a law to replace it. Congress will not reconvene again until the lame duck session after the November elections, where chances of it being passed aren’t much better. That means the odds are quite high that the earliest we will have a new Farm Bill is sometime in 2013.
The response from the typical non-farmer might be: So what? True, grocery store shelves will still be stocked with food come Oct. 1, and the rural landscape will look much the same in coming months.
But there’s the potential for our food and farming system to suffer some real long-term damage as a result of this inexcusable action (or rather, inaction) on the part of Congress. As we’ve reported before, both the Senate and House’s versions of the Farm Bill are far from perfect, but Congress still has a chance to develop a proposal that benefits family farmers and conservation, instead of just corporate special interests.
That’s why you need to contact Congress and let it know that stalling on developing a Farm Bill that’s based on good public policy is unacceptable.
Up until recently, the Farm Bill process was moving pretty much on schedule. The Senate passed its version of the legislation earlier this summer, and the House Agriculture Committee passed a Farm Bill after that.
But farm policy recently hit a major pothole in the House. That’s because leadership there is reluctant to debate the Farm Bill on the floor, since it did not do the groundwork necessary to get enough votes for passage. Making things even more difficult is that election year politics is getting in the way of either party agreeing on any policy issue, let alone agriculture. This is a catastrophic failure of the kind of leadership that is required to develop sound public policy.
Veteran Congressional journalist David Rogers recently reported that an analysis of 50 years worth of Farm Bills found no precedent for the situation we are currently in.
“Never before in modern times has a farm bill reported from the House Agriculture Committee been so blocked,” wrote Rogers. “There have been long debates, often torturous negotiations with the Senate and a famous meltdown in 1995 when the House Agriculture Committee couldn’t produce a bill. But no House farm bill, once out of committee, has been kept off the floor while its deadline passes.”
As a result, if a new Farm Bill isn’t passed in the next few weeks programs related to sustainable agriculture, economic development and beginning farmer support all come to a dead stop. Many of these are programs that were won through hard work by LSP and other sustainable agriculture groups during the last Farm Bill, but require action on the part of Congress to be funded in the future.
In addition, key reforms that were passed by the Senate will wither on the vine without a 2012 Farm Bill. That means, for example, huge direct payments to large-scale crop farmers will continue, and crop insurance payments will be made without any restrictions on how the land is farmed.
Our nation needs a comprehensive Farm Bill re-authorization that provides continuity and confidence for farmers and ranchers, conservation for our natural resources and sustainable development for our rural and urban communities. At this time, the Land Stewardship Project will not support just any final Farm Bill that passes. This is more than about making something law for the sake of meeting a Sept. 30 deadline. In order to gain our endorsement, a bill must take the long view and invest in effective conservation, beginning farmers and rural development, while at the same time bringing reforms and greater accountability to abusive and wasteful elements of crop insurance and commodity programs.
As if this Farm Bill debacle wasn’t enough, if Congress passes a six-month Continuing Resolution for Fiscal Year 2013 (as it looks like it may do within the next few days), it will result in across-the-board slashing of key conservation initiatives like the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).
If the Continuing Resolution is passed, CSP enrollments for 2013 would he halted completely, with resources only available to maintain and administer existing contracts. (For more on LSP’s concerns related to the Continuing Resolution, see our recent letter to the Minnesota Congressional delegation.)
The loss of CSP would hit the Upper Midwest particularly hard, since states in this region have led in the use of this program. For example, in Minnesota over 3,200 CSP contracts are in place, allowing farmers to protect soil, water and wildlife habitat, while providing them incentives to implement more innovative land-friendly systems. Thousands more farmers in the region have shown interest in the program, making it a potentially huge boon to working lands conservation.
This is another example of corporate ag’s influence in policy making playing an outsized role inside the Beltway. Failing to pass a solid Farm Bill or allowing the Continuing Resolution process to blindly gut effective programs like CSP seems to fit with corporate ag’s attitude that conservation, family farmers and rural communities should always take a back seat (or maybe even be shoved in the trunk) when it comes to public policy.
With mounting pressure on America’s farming regions—be it from land-inflating commodity prices, corporate concentration, high erosion levels or drought—an investment in the land and the people who live and work on it is more important than ever.
To learn more about how you can make your voice heard, e-mail or call me.
Adam Warthesen is an LSP organizer who works on federal farm policy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-722-6377.