For those hoping to see some advancement on the US Farm Bill, this summer has so far been a disappointment. With less than two months remaining before the expiration of the current bill, the process to create the Farm Bill of 2012 continues to be a victim of election year politics. Here is a quick recap to bring you up to speed:
The Senate passed its farm bill version back in June – while there were some letdowns, it was overall a good bill. It contained some cuts to conservation programs, but it included some important amendments for beginning farmers, and also streamlined crop insurance subsidy programs. You can read more about it in this analysis by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), of which NYFC is a member.
The next step, though, is for the House to pass its own version, and then for the two groups to reconcile them. Given the increasingly polarized nature of Washington, it has been frustrating but not surprising that the House has been dragging its feet on approving a bill. While the House Agriculture Committee has passed a draft bill, it has been kept from reaching the House floor.
At the tail end of July, the House leadership instead tried to push forward a one-year extension and disaster-relief bill that would postpone the creation of a real farm bill until 2013. In the meantime it would have left the current commodity and crop insurance subsidy programs and the SNAP program (food stamps) without significant change from the 2008 Farm Bill, and would have cut farm bill conservation programs by $761 million. Frighteningly, it would also have eliminated all of the farm bill-funded rural economic development, renewable energy, organic agriculture, local food, and beginning and historically underserved farmer programs for the period of the extension. NYFC, along with NSAC, publicly stood against this political ploy. Just days later, under pressure from a wide variety of groups, the House leadership pulled the extension proposal.
Finally, late last week the House passed a stand-alone disaster-relief bill, intended again to address the most pressing issue (drought) while putting off discussion of the rest of the bill. The Senate bill, it should be noted, includes disaster-relief in it, and a House bill could have as well. At this point the two chambers have been at loggerheads as the House calls on the Senate to pass a disaster-relief bill and the Senate calls on the House to pass a comprehensive farm bill that would also include disaster-relief.
Congress has just begun a five week recess, giving them only a few weeks back in Washington before reaching the September 30th deadline for reauthorization of the farm bill. The National Young Farmers’ Coalition continues to support a comprehensive reauthorization of the bill, and not an extension that will most likely cut valuable programs and at best defer important decisions that need to be made today.