By DOUG GRAVES
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Farmers looking forward to provisions in the next farm bill will have to wait until after next week’s elections, confirmed U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
On Sept. 30 the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (more familiarly known as the farm bill) was left to expire. The U.S. Senate passed its version of the new bill earlier this year, but the House put off a vote on its version until after the November elections.
“The House Ag Committee has passed a version of the bill, but it didn’t get to the floor,” said Yvonne Lesicko, senior director of legislative and regulatory policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau.
So what can farmers expect in the bill when it finally does appear? “The soaring cost of crop insurance and the move away from direct payments to farmers in favor of risk-management measures will shape the future of the farm bill,” said farm policy expert Carl Zulauf with The Ohio State University.
“It’s more common than not common that the farm bill expires before another one is approved,” he said, noting this situation has become the norm in recent history. “January 1, 2013, is really the date to watch for, when some of the programs (in the current legislation) would go away if there’s no new farm bill and the resolution to continue it expires.”
Zulauf said there are many incentives for the current Congress to pass a new farm bill before the end of the year, as the bills drafted by the Senate and House include billions in savings at a time when deficit reduction is a hot topic on Capitol Hill.
The Senate has passed a bill that cuts $23 billion during 10 years.
The House version – which shrinks the farm bill by as much as $36 billion over that decade – has been passed by its Agriculture Committee, but the full House has not yet taken up the legislation. “It’s hard to believe this Congress will not pass a farm bill that saves money,” Zulauf said.
Boehner acknowledged the issue in the House was that some lawmakers felt legislation that passed out of its Ag Committee earlier in the year would overhaul spending on farm and nutrition-related programs too much, while others felt it didn’t go far enough. The House did pass a short-term drought relief bill before the August recess, but senators unhappy with the structure of the bill declined to take it up.
The farm bill deals with the array of grant, insurance and loan programs that help America’s farming community.
A much larger part of the bill actually involves spending on nutrition and other government programs to help lower-income families.
Whenever legislation is passed and whatever it ends up costing, Zulauf says the issue of crop insurance and its cost will impact the future of the legislation.
“The next farm bill will be about crop insurance and the cost of crop insurance,” he said. “It costs $5 billion a year now. It’s no longer a small program. We are at that point where we will be taking a hard look at that.”
Also shaping the farm bill will be the shift from direct payments to producers and a stronger emphasis on risk management, mostly in the form of crop insurance programs to guarantee that farmers are protected when events such as this year’s drought rears an ugly head, Zulauf said.