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Published: Tuesday, 10/2/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Farm bill's expiration lamented

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Without fanfare, the 2008 farm bill expired Sunday night and while the effects of not having a farm bill won’t be devastating immediately to Ohio’s farmers, it could get to that point if one isn’t passed before year’s end, experts said.

“We’re at a really critical point without one now. We’re going to be at a dire point if we don’t get a new bill by the end of the year,” said Yvonne Lesicko, senior director of legislative and regulatory policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau in Columbus.

The great fear, said Roger Wise, a Fremont-area farmer and president of the Ohio Farmers Union, is that any new farm bill before year’s end will undoubtedly be passed by a lame-duck session of Congress, meaning there will be no great incentive to pass a bill that truly meets farmers’ needs.

“I don’t think it will be as good as it can be had we got it before the Sept. 30 expiration just because of the nature of lame-duck Congresses. But if we don’t get it soon, there could be dramatic effects on farmers, nutrition programs, and even national security issues,” Mr. Wise said.

Congress adjourned Sept. 19 without renewing the existing farm bill. Both houses of Congress had proposed a replacement bill, but they were far apart on unifying legislation with the House proposing a bill with $35 billion in cuts to meet budget deficit restrictions and the Senate proposing cuts of $23 million.

Either way, cuts were going to happen, Ms. Lesicko said, but Ohio farmers were hopeful a bill could be crafted that still met the needs of farmers without making drastic reductions. But Congress adjourned without passing an extension and with it now in recess until after the Nov. 8 election, there is no telling when the matter will be taken up again.

In the meantime, several programs paid for by farm bill funding are expiring.

First on the list is MILC, or the Milk Income Loss Contract program, which compensates dairy producers when domestic milk prices — which can be volatile — fall below a specified level. MILC payments will be made through November, but after that, dairy producers are out of luck.

Next to go is the Specialty Crops program, which could affect all northwest Ohio fruit and vegetable growers and specialty nurseries. The program provides block grants to help organizations and individuals pay for research, assistance, and marketing for specialty crops and floriculture businesses.

Also to expire shortly due to lack of funding is the Conservation Reserve program, which encourages farmers to convert highly erodible cropland or environmentally sensitive acreage to vegetative cover, such as grasslands or shade trees.

The CRP program has been particularly effective in northwest Ohio to control flooding and promote wildlife.

“It’s all kind of starting now as these programs start to expire and we’ll get progressively worse as we continue to go,” Ms. Lesicko said.

At an undetermined point, theU.S. Department of Agriculture won’t be able to enter into new trade contracts, which will hit Ohio farmers particularly hard and hurt programs designed to promote trade of commodities such as corn, wheat, and soybeans, Ms. Lesicko said. “It’s any person’s guess as to what might happen,” she added.

For now, monies to help offset this summer’s drought disaster are covered, and payments to several northwest Ohio counties listed as disaster area will go to farmers as scheduled. And overall, the 2008 law that expired on Sunday covers all of 2012’s crops.

“It’s next year that we’re worried about,” Mr. Wise said.

The Farmers Union president said he believes funding levels in existing programs in the 2008 farm bill are likely to be reduced in whatever replacement bill gets passed either this year or early next year by the new Congress.

“I see consequences of not getting this done early and it’s difficult to tell how they’ll manifest themselves. I think a lot of programs will be cut or consolidated,” Mr. Wise said.

“The thing about farm legislation is it’s generally an investment. It’s money that creates a return,” he said. “For example, it’s said that you reap $7 for every $1 that will be spent in the nutrition program.

“Generally, a farm bill is a safety net for farmers so that in poor years those farms can remain in business. Farmers only plant and harvest once a year, yet they have to provide for 12 months a year,” Mr. Wise said.

Contact Jon Chavez at jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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