Farm Bill: Will it get done this year?

Gary Brock Civitas Media

January 4, 2014

WASHINGTON — When Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown stood in front of more than 300 farmers Dec. 5, at the Ohio Farm Bureau’s annual meeting, he told them that he thought it was possible that there would be no farm bill passed in 2013, and that action would not be likely until the next year.

His prophesy proved spot on.

As 2013 ended, the House and Senate in Washington had not reached an agreement on the long-belabored Farm Bill.

But everyone from Sen. Brown to Ohio agriculture and policy experts agree that something will happen soon — perhaps still in January.

When he talked to farmers at the OFBF meeting he said, “I think we are heading in the right direction” toward getting a Farm Bill approved. He said the bill would be particularly good for “corn, soybeans and dairy.”

He said “The president wants a Farm Bill, because he knows it is also a jobs bill.”

Brown also said he wants a farm bill that “strengthens the safety net, and extends it.”

As 2013 closed, Sen. Brown sent a statement regarding the failure of a bill’s approval by the end of the year.

“Passing a farm bill is essential to supporting a key industry in Ohio,” Brown said. “The Senate has passed legislation that is fair to farmers and provides reforms taxpayers deserve. I will continue to focus on eliminating direct payments, improving crop insurance, and bolstering rural economic development, local food production, and biobased manufacturing. We also must ensure that SNAP benefits remain intact for those working class families with children, seniors, and disabled that rely on this program. I am hopefully that we will be able to put aside partisan differences and pass this long overdue bill.”

That key industry of course is agriculture.

However, several of the points Sen. Brown raised in his statement may be some of the very issues keeping the House and Senate apart, and may be one of the reasons a “continuing resolution” may take place to simply extend — again — the existing bill.

That is what Ohio State University Agriculture Economist Dr. Carl Zulauf believes will happen.

At a December “2014 Outlook” regional meeting of Ohio farmers, he said that one of the surprising things about the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill is that about 95 percent of the bills are identical.

“The differences are in that five percent. And those differences are philosophical. And that is what will make compromise more difficult,” he said.

There are differences, for instance in the Nutrition Programs in the Bill between House and Senate.

“The questions they in Congress are asking is: Given the economy, do we want to make cuts in the number of people receiving benefits from the nutrition program?” Zulauf said.

The economist noted the Senate won’t pass a bill that makes major cuts, and the House won’t pass a bill that does not make enough cuts.

He said that if they try to compromise in billions cut, say, $10 billion in cuts over 10 years, there are some in Congress who will vote against because it it too much cutting, and others who will vote against it because it is not enough.

“So I think there is about a 66 percent chance that there will be a two-year extension with smaller direct payments or possibly even a new bill,” he told the farmers at the December Clinton County Regional Outlook meeting. But he cautioned that for the first time, he thinks there is not a zero chance that the farm bill will be rejected outright and they would have to start over with the permanent law repealed, meaning the commodity programs would end.

What he said was not going to happen was a huge jump in the price of milk this year because of the lack of a farm bill.

“No legislator is going to allow that to happen,” he said, pointing out that this is a mid-term election year, and no incumbent wants an opponent to use the fact that the legislator allow the price of a gallon of milk to more than double.

He also cautioned farmers to be aware of the concerns by the non-agriculture public. The public is being told that farmers are making record profits, yet the taxpayers are paying $10 billion in subsidy payments to farmers.

“The public want to know — is this fair,” Zulauf said.

He said the major differences between the House and Senate bills, which are now being debated in a joint conference committee, are: nutrition programs; Dairy programs; Crop Insurance; Subsidy limits; and Crop Safety nets.