Farm Stand: Time is running out on Farm Bill

September 20, 2012 | |

Farmers are out harvesting their crops, doing their jobs. We ought to expect that Congress will do its job on the Farm Bill.

One of the most poignant quotes we’ve seen about the Farm Bill is from a sixth-generation Iowa farmer who commented that farmers were out harvesting their crops, doing their jobs—and that we ought to expect that Congress will do its job.

Yet House leaders are preparing to go home Friday without bringing up for a vote a Farm Bill that passed with bipartisan support in its own House Agriculture Committee—something Politico reports is unprecedented.

That means they’re punting on any action on the Farm Bill, which expires September 30, until after the election at the earliest, and maybe until next year. Waiting until next year is unacceptable.

National Public Radio carried a short-sighted report this week that said passing the Farm Bill quickly isn’t that big a deal. Changes in price supports for commodities like wheat, the program noted, don’t go into effect until January and won’t be felt until spring.

But the story missed out on some critical details—there’s a lot more at stake than commodities, and House representatives deserve to get an earful when they’re home campaigning over the next few weeks.

In the Senate and House bills currently under consideration, there’s important funding (to varying degrees) for beginning farmers to ensure we have a next generation on the land. There’s funding to support fruit and vegetable growers, the very farmers who grow the food that health experts say we need to be healthy. There are programs to conserve land, and to build local food economies.

Both versions, for example, include funding for programs like Double Up Food Bucks, which doubles the money of Bridge Card (food stamp) users when they purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables—helping financially struggling families put healthy food on the dinner table, while investing in local farm jobs. And I’ve already written about the importance of the Farm Bill to help schools put more locally grown food onto the plates of children during the day.

But as of September 30, some of the very farm bill programs that support these kinds of efforts in Michigan and around the county will expire.

If the House doesn’t act after the election and before January, over 30 farm bill programs—including many that directly support beginning farmers, fruit and vegetable growers, and food access efforts—will be indefinitely delayed, putting farms and farm programs in limbo, and likely endangered. It will be a missed opportunity for some real economic recovery.

The Senate, led by Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, not only got a bipartisan bill out of committee, but also out of the full Senate. It includes $23 billion in cuts over the previous Farm Bill, and has been lauded as the only piece of legislation drafted in a contentious Congress this year that significantly addresses deficit reduction.

There will be a whole new Congress in January; we’ll have to start back at square one after a year of painstaking work if Congress can’t get its work done in November.

A number of House members are frustrated with their leaders, with one Republican saying, “We have an opportunity to do something that is not partisan. I think we ought to do it.”  

Yes! Do it. Otherwise, if you’re not going to do this job, get another one.

Want to chime in? Click here to get the contact information for your Representative.

About the Author

Farm Stand is the blog of the Food and Farming team at MLUI. Diane Conners is the senior policy specialist and directs the farm to school program. She can be reached at [email protected].

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