Editor’s Note: The following article was written by Christine Souza, associate editor of Ag Alert.
After the U.S. House of Representatives failed to pass a five-year farm bill last week, California farmers and farm organizations are considering the possibilities and still hoping a finished bill can make it out of Congress and be signed by the president by Sept. 30, when the current farm bill is set to expire.
The bill funds nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, often referred to as the food stamp program, and authorizes a variety of programs related to conservation, pest and disease prevention, trade promotion and other activities. The House rejected the farm bill primarily because of disagreement about how much to reduce funding for nutrition programs.
Josh Rolph of the California Farm Bureau Federation Federal Policy Division called the bill's failure "very disappointing."
"It just adds more frustration for those who rely on certainty in farm policy," Rolph said. "We will now work diligently to ensure a farm bill is passed before the Sept. 30 deadline."
According to Rolph, there are now essentially three realistic options: The House Agriculture Committee can begin anew and draft a revised bill; the House can bring up the version of the farm bill already adopted by the Senate; or Congress can extend current law for another year or two. A fourth option, Rolph said, is that none of the above occurs and federal farm policy reverts to 1949 law, but he said he does not expect that to happen.
The House vote leaves uncertain the immediate future of "safety net" programs for direct-payment commodities such as rice, cotton, dairy and others. Both the farm bill adopted by the Senate and that passed by the House Agriculture Committee eliminated direct payment programs and replaced them with crop insurance programs.
"Cropping plans are already being formulated now for next year," said rice grower Sean Doherty of Dunnigan. "This (uncertainty) throws our potential crop rotation plan into disarray and just adds a lot more stress to what is already stressful enough. It is difficult to budget when you don't know the economics."
California dairy producers expressed support for elimination of the dairy price support program and the Milk Income Loss Contract program, in favor of programs that offer a voluntary gross margin insurance program for dairy farmers.
"From the dairy farmer perspective, we do need a dairy title and a dairy safety net that does provide us with some type of protection. So we need the House to get their act together and to pass a farm bill, get it into conference and see if we can get something to the president's desk that he will sign," said Michael Marsh, Western United Dairymen chief executive officer.