Farm Bill Doings

A Farm Bill extension was sent to the White House this morning, part of the deal passed late last night by the House. (Has there ever been a New Year's Day when C-Span was more exciting than ESPN?)

As usual, DTN's Chris Clayton has the most thorough coverage of the Farm Bill aspects. As you will recall, the Farm Bill expired last year and a new bill was caught in the wake of the "fiscal cliff" debate.

The bill that passed last night in the House (two-thirds of the yes votes came from Democrats) extends the Farm Bill for nine months, Clayton reports. As he writes it, this makeshift bill was hardly much to cheer rural America in the new year.

The big deal in the urban press was that the bill did avert a "milk cliff," a sudden jump in milk prices caused by the end of a dairy price program. If that had happened, milk prices would have jumped. That was the headline news in the Washington Post — that milk prices wouldn't jump.

But there was a lot left out of the Farm Bill extension that did pass. The extension only provided funding for some of the programs included in the full bill, which had passed the Senate and the House ag committee earlier in the year. Clayton reports:

Provisions were removed from the bill that would have funded $664 million in disaster aid aimed mainly at livestock producers as well as fruit and vegetable growers not protected by crop insurance. Agricultural groups were upset over the way the farm legislation was handled, particularly given that more than 30 programs were left unfunded and in limbo throughout 2013 until a new, five-year bill is adopted.

Nor was there much "reform" of farm programs in the extension, according to those Clayton interviewed.

"The deal is blatantly anti-reform," Ferd Hoefner, policy director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said in a news release. "The full Senate and the House Agriculture Committee earlier this year agreed to permanently eliminate direct payment subsidies for commodity production regardless of price and income conditions, yet the deal would lock in those egregious subsidies for another full year at a $5 billion price tag."

The National Farmers Union's Roger Johnson also said the extension "continues unjustified direct payments" in 2013. Meanwhile, it doesn't provide disaster aid or support for dairy. All of these provisions were contained in a Farm Bill passed by ag committees in both the House and Senate.

"Farmers, ranchers, rural communities and all Americans deserve better and would have been better served with a new five-year farm bill," Johnson said in a news release. "It is truly a shame that the bipartisan work of both the Senate and House Agriculture Committees has been summarily and entirely discarded. Not only was that work far better than what has passed, it also provided meaningful deficit reduction."

Milk drinkers may be happy with the result, but not milk producers. The extension did not have a dairy safety net for an industry that suffered brutal declines in producers in the last few years.

Reuters reports that "three dozen programs in the law have no money left, including disaster relief and biofuel development as well as a soil conservation program and some rural economic development and agricultural research programs."

The deal did contain a $12 billion extension of wind-power tax credits and other renewable energy support. House Republicans objected.

We await a full accounting of what happened to rural development programs — some of which are in the Farm Bill and some are not.

Consider Politico's description of what happened:

In the final hours, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) found herself pushed aside in favor of legislative language generated by the office of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a bit player and frequent “no” vote when the Senate adopted a more comprehensive five-year farm bill last June.

McConnell’s role in the tax talks gave him immense leverage, while Stabenow was hurt by committee infighting over her efforts to write a more comprehensive farm bill extension that included changes in the dairy program.

The upshot is a victory for Southern agricultural interests with the greatest stake in a costly system of direct cash payments to often already profitable producers. In the dairy arena, giant processors like Dean Foods Co. come out ahead while the outcome is a major blow for the National Milk Producers Federation, which watched with disbelief from the sidelines on New Year’s Eve…

Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, had warned the White House that it must tread carefully on the dairy and farm bills issues or risk a backlash. And Peterson didn’t hide his anger with the administration for helping to roll Stabenow and the agriculture committees.

“Upset is an understatement,” Peterson told POLITICO. “I’m not going to talk with those guys. I’m done with them for the next four years. They are on their own. They don’t give a sh-it. about me, anyway.”

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