U.S. Senator Kent Conrad D-N.D.
On Sunday, Sept. 30, the current Farm Bill expired.
There is no mystery about why this happened. Even though the full Senate and the House Agriculture Committee approved bi-partisan versions of a new Farm Bill months ago, House Republican leaders would not allow either bill to be voted on by the full House. House members who say they wanted to enact a new Farm Bill before the current one expired, failed to secure a vote to do so. House leaders say they may get to it after the election, but have offered no firm commitment to do so.
This failure means several things to agricultural producers in North Dakota and across the U.S.
Farm families will now have to plan their crop year with the added burden of not knowing what the nation's farm policy will be. Those in the House who let the farm program expire often complain the most that uncertainty about tax and regulatory policy hobbles business and industry. Apparently, in their view, uncertainty about farm policy is somehow an exception.
It's tough enough for family farmers and ranchers to make a profit through the maze of wildly uncertain weather, the constant threat of crop disease, and farm markets often characterized by unfair trade practices and dramatic price swings. Republican leaders in the US House shouldn't ask them to do it without knowing what federal farm policy provides.
That uncertainty will ripple through farm and ranch country. Faced with uncertainty, bankers become reluctant to make farm operating loans. Implement and supply dealers have difficulty in deciding what to stock for the coming crop year.
Many of the conservation programs, such as Open Fields and new sign-ups for CRP and WRP contracts, will be ended.
Failure to reauthorize the Farm Bill will undermine the majority of the energy programs the Senate Agriculture Committee extended in their version of the bill creating uncertainty for investors in the development of North Dakota's renewable energy industry.
Further, the authority for our export promotion programs, which North Dakota producers have helped fund to enhance overseas markets for our commodities will expire.
Livestock producers will be especially affected. The Senate's Farm Bill includes disaster assistance for livestock producers for 2012. With 80 percent of North Dakota experiencing some level of drought this year, North Dakota ranchers could use that help. Without the provision in the Senate Farm Bill, they won't get it.
Even more troubling is the red flag raised by the House's insistence on putting off a vote on a new Farm Bill until after the election. The House has already passed a blue print for farm policy that would pull the rug out from under family farmers, ranchers and rural communities. That blueprint is the budget put forward by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., now the Republican Vice Presidential nominee.
It proposes massive cuts of $179 billion over ten years in the federal farm program. The Senate Farm Bill more reasonably proposes $23 billion in cuts over the same period. The Ryan budget axes conservation programs by 25 percent; cuts the farm safety net like crop insurance and commodity price support by nearly 20 percent; and chops more than 17 percent from nutrition, which boosts the domestic market for farm and ranch products by helping needy working families and the elderly buy groceries.
All but 10 of the 242 House Republicans voted for it.
No one suggests farm programs should be exempt from belt tightening. But I don't know anyone who thinks arbitrarily cutting one of every five dollars from important farm programs makes sense -- except those who voted for the Ryan budget and the House leaders who won't even consider scheduling a vote on a new Farm Bill until after the election.
The best firewall farmers and ranchers had against the Ryan budget Farm Bill funding levels was that voters would get to have a say -- in the election -- shortly after a House vote took place.
Now they won't.
The way is now clear for House Republicans, who overwhelmingly passed the Ryan budget, to implement its assault on needed farm programs without having to face the voters shortly after doing so.