Farm groups blast farm policy extension
Congress struggled until the very last moment on legislation that would avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" of mandatory budget cuts and tax hikes, but managed to at least pass stop-gap measures before the end of this session of Congress.
Among the items rolled into the fiscal cliff legislation, HR 8, or the Tax Relief Extension Act, was a farm bill extension, which many dairy and farm groups immediately blasted as "ineffective, disastrous" or worse.
National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson said that with the vote on the legislation Congress has "once again left rural America out in the cold."
An extension of the old farm policy, he said, "represents a short sighted, temporary fix that ultimately provides inadequate solutions that will leave our farmers and ranchers crippled by uncertainty.
"The legislation that passed fails to provide disaster aid for farmers or necessary support for our dairy industry, yet continues unjustifiable direct payments," Johnson said. Direct payments were an aspect of the current farm policy that farmers were assured would disappear this year as Congress worked its way through the measure.
Earlier this year when farm legislation was being discussed, all lawmakers said that direct payments would be a thing of the past.
Johnson was also upset that the extension of the farm bill does not provide mandatory funding for the energy title, specialty crops and organic provisions and new programs for beginning farmers and ranchers.
"Farmers, ranchers, rural communities and all Americans deserve better and would have been better served with a new five-year farm bill," he said. "It is truly a shame that the bipartisan work of both the Senate and House Agriculture Committees has been summarily and entirely discarded.
"Not only was that work far better than what has passed, it also provided meaningful deficit reduction," he said.
The Senate, led by Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabbenow (D-MI) passed its version of the farm legislation in June and the House Agriculture Committee ratified its version in July, but the full House was never allowed to vote on the package because leadership blocked it.
Jerry Kozak, President and CEO of National Milk Producers Federation, an organization that represents 30 dairy cooperatives and most of the milk in the United States, called the nine-month extension of the farm bill "a devastating blow to the nation's dairy farmers."
Kozak said that after "months of inaction," the plan that passed as part of the fiscal cliff package "amounts to shoving farmers over the dairy cliff without providing any safety net below."
Dairy farmers across the country united behind the Dairy Security Act provisions in the original farm bills, he said.
Kozak said that instead of moving farm policy forward Congress is offering more of the same. "These stop-gap measures don't even qualify as kicking the can down the road. It's little more than a New Year's Day, hair-of-the-dog stab at temporarily putting off decisions that should have been made in 2012 about how to move farm policy forward."
Significant progress was made in moving farm policy forward 2012, but this measure starts 2013 off on a bad note, Kozak said. "We oppose any farm bill extension of any duration that does not contain the Dairy Security Act, and resolve to work this year on achieving that as a long-term goal."
The farm policy plan that had been completed by the Senate and by the House Agriculture Committee last summer included the components National Milk wanted to see from the Dairy Security Act.
The bills also eliminated direct payments and export subsidies and establish a voluntary risk management tool for dairy farmers that would have saved the government money.
The U.S. Senate passed its version of the fiscal cliff bill in the early hours of Jan. 1 and the House passed it later in the day.
Both of Wisconsin's senators voted for the package and the vote in the House the vote was 5-3 in favor of the package. Voting against the fiscal cliff measure were Republicans Tom Petri, Jim Sensenbrenner and Sean Duffy.
Ferd Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, called the farm bill extension deal "a disaster for farmers and the American people" and "blatantly anti-reform."
The farm bills that had been approved by the full Senate and the House Agriculture Committee earlier this year agreed to permanently eliminate direct payment subsidies for commodity production regardless of price and income conditions, he said, yet this extension deal will lock in "those egregious subsidies for another full year at a $5 billion price tag."
In addition, many smaller, targeted programs to fund farm and food system reform and rural jobs, included in a weekend agreement between Senate Agriculture Chair Debbie Stabenow and House Agriculture Chair Frank Lucas, were left out completely.
Hoefner agreed with Kozak that workable dairy policy for the next year was also left out of the package along with any disaster aid for livestock and fruit producers.
The deal also has the effect of keeping farmers from being able to improve soil and water conservation through enrollment in the Conservation Stewardship Program.
"We are extremely disappointed in the Republican leadership for proposing this deal and in the White House for accepting it. The message is unmistakable - direct commodity subsidies, despite high market prices, are sacrosanct, while the rest of agriculture and the rest of rural America can simply drop dead."
Hoefner commended the Agriculture Committee leadership for trying to pass a more responsible extension measure in the face of the fiscal cliff and said his member organizations and the farmers they represent would "recommit to getting a true farm and food bill reform measure passed in 2013."
Johnson said National Farmers Union would continue to work with members of Congress and all interested parties during the next Congress to ensure that a farm bill can be completed as "expeditiously as possible."
The 113th Congress will be sworn in and seated in Washington in only a few days.