By TIM THORNBERRY
WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the presidential election nears, thoughts last week returned to the possibility of the 2012 farm bill being passed in the coming lame-duck session. U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia made mention of it while stumping for fellow Republican Rep. Paul Labrador in Idaho.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, issued a statement upon learning of Cantor’s remark of committing to holding a vote on the bill after Nov. 6:
“I’m very pleased to hear that Majority Leader Cantor is now committed to bring the farm bill to the floor immediately after the election. America’s farmers, ranchers, small businesses and 16 million Americans employed in agriculture desperately need the certainty and disaster relief the farm bill provides,” she said.
“We passed a bipartisan farm bill (in the Senate) that reforms farm programs and cuts $23 billion in spending. I hope our colleagues in the House of Representatives will follow that lead with a bipartisan approach to this legislation.
“It is critical that we are able to finalize the farm bill before the beginning of next year when farm programs begin to expire, which would impact milk and food prices for families.”
But differences still remain between the Senate version and what will likely become the House adaptation. Much of the debate involves the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); the House wants deeper cuts than those put in the Senate bill. By some reports the difference is as large as $12 billion.
This issue has most hunger organizations weighing in about those cuts and what should be included in a farm bill to address the growing need of food for those unable to afford it.
The group “Bread for the World” noted on its website the bill could “include investing in agricultural research at U.S. land-grant colleges to develop ways to grow food in changing climate environments; helping farmers sell their products directly to consumers to earn higher incomes – including sales to millions of low-income consumers who now lack access to healthy, nutritious foods in their communities; rewarding farmers who put in place sustainable and responsible environmental practices.”
Some states have programs to connect local farmers to the food banks in their areas.
Kentucky passed legislation know as the Farm to Food Banks Bill that would help producers get their “seconds” that would likely perish in the field to food banks across the state.
In Massachusetts, there is a program known as the Food Bank Farm, in which organic-type produce is grown with the purpose of providing households who don’t have access to fresh, healthy food with the products grown on that farm.
Regardless of how the food gets to them, the numbers of those in need of food has grown through the tough economic conditions of the last four years.
This need and proposed cuts in the new farm bill could slow the process after the election during a type of session historically notable for getting little done in the way of bill passage.
Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), chair of the House Committee on Agriculture – which did send a version of the farm bill to the House floor – recently appeared on the nationally televised “Oklahoma HORIZON” show. He said the committee has attempted to work across the aisle to pass a bipartisan farm bill that would create a safety net, to make sure the ability exists to raise the food and fiber the people of this country and the world need.
Lucas said in addition to the commodity titles, the nutrition titles have also been a big issue. Those nutrition titles comprise 80 percent of the farm bill spending. When asked if he thought a bill could pass in the lame-duck, he replied, “I’m a farmer by trade, therefore I’m an eternal optimist; but my answer has to be yes.”
If a bill does pass, there won’t be much time for debate before the new Congress takes over, not to mention that the results of the presidential election may figure into the equation.