Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Farm bill delays hurt farmers

Farmers will be torn this morning on whether to be relieved or anxious that there has been yet another extension given to hammer out a new farm bill.

The House announced it will extend current farm law until the House and Senate politicians can work out an agreement that satisfies most of them, but most of all will be able to get approval from the president.

Unfortunately, President George W. Bush has not been flexible in his demands for a cheaper farm bill and certain areas changed or cut. He has threatened a veto, and has shown in the last year that he is not afraid to use his powers to get what he wants.

The politicians had already received a 33-day extension.

In March, when that was announced, Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer discussed how Bush had agreed to that extension.

“The President made it clear upon signing it, if the final bill that Congress delivers includes a tax increase or fails to provide reform for our farm policies, it will be met with a veto. America’s farmers deserve better than a series of short-term extensions here of our current law. They need to know what farm policy is going to be so that they can make sound business decisions about what to plant this year and how they are going to finance it, Schafer said.

“If Congress fails to reach an agreement on a new Farm Bill that meets the standards that the President set out, he will ask Congress to extend the current law for at least one year. And we need to be clear, this is not the outcome we want to see, nor is it one we believe to best address the nation’s long-term needs. The government has a responsibility to provide resolution for our farmers and ranchers and landowners and everyone who depends on the Farm Bill,” Schafer said.

On March 18, Schafer already was admitting it was frustrating for farmers and ranchers to not know what farm program they will be operating under this spring. “They’ve got to make planting and financial decisions. It’s time. It’s too late now in some places,” he said.

The timing is now worse. Farmers are already in the fields in some areas, and if not, they already have made their plans and are in the process of buying the inputs they need to plant their crops. They are already battling banks and other lenders that are uneasy about providing loans when uncertainty remains about what programs will be available for the next few years.

So why is it taking so long to pass a farm bill?

Going back to March 18, during a press conference, Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner said there was a couple of things that complicated and delayed passing this farm bill, especially compared to past ones.

First, there were tax increases tied to supporting farm bill programs. That triggered a lot more questions, reactions and made it tougher to pass, especially as more committees become involved in the mess.

“You know, you bring in a whole other set of committees, of jurisdiction, people that don’t necessarily have strong agricultural backgrounds. They have a totally different set of interests they are bringing to the table than perhaps the House and the Senate Agriculture Committees. And that’s a huge complicating factor,” Conner told journalists.

“And I think that has been one of the key reasons that we’ve seen a slow-down, perhaps almost a stalemate in this process at this point, has been these jurisdictional fights that have been occurring in Congress between the various committees of jurisdiction that now have a stake in the Farm Bill,” Conner said.

The ones with the largest stake — farmers themselves — are being ignored, and left holding their seed bags as they have already begun their next crop season.

The farm bill should have been settled in 2007, not this late in the political season, and the President as well as Congress share blame for this fiasco.

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