Inaction by Congress on a new farm bill is not good news for Nebraska's economy, according to Tim Scheer of St. Paul and chairman of the Nebraska Corn Board. The lack of a farm bill could stifle the economic vitality that Nebraska agriculture has brought to the state over the past several years, he says.
"All the progress achieved and contributions that agriculture has made in the past decade are at risk if Congress continues to drag its feet," he says. "We need Nebraska farmers to speak up now and get our nation's leaders to cooperate on a Farm Bill. Congressional leadership stated they were not hearing from farmers last fall, so we need to get our voices heard this year."
The current Farm Bill, crafted in 2008 and extended last year, is set to expire Sept. 30, and if a new bill or an extension of the 2008 bill is not passed, federal price supports revert to their 1949 levels. If that happens, some farmers, such as those involved in wheat or dairy production, would be big winners. But others, such as soybean farmers, would get nothing at all because some commodities were added after the 1949 legislation.
"Nebraska farmers should not settle for another extension of the 2008 bill," Scheer says. "We need a new Farm Bill that is in step with what is happening today and with the future challenges and opportunities for agriculture. And we need it now. "Without Congressional action, America's farm policy will become a patchwork of policy that is unworkable for producers trying to run their businesses and plan for the future."
Commodity programs are only one part of farm bill legislation. A larger portion is dedicated to food assistance and nutrition programs. While the Senate passed their version of a Farm Bill that included both, the House passed only commodity titles and not a nutrition title—the first time in history the two have been split in this way, according to Scheer. Since the House has not scheduled consideration of the nutrition portion, the entire farm bill is stalled.
"Food production and food assistance programs have always been supported by Republicans and Democrats—and rural and urban policymakers—until now," Scheer adds. "The fact that food producers and those needing food assistance are being held hostage by partisan politics is both unprecedented and unconscionable."
Scheer notes that a number of key factors in Nebraska agriculture are at risk without a farm bill, including crop insurance, export promotion, international trade servicing and research programs.
"Agriculture is one of the few trade success stories for America as we export grain and meat—and our global leadership in agriculture is due in great part to our research and scientific advancements," he says. "All of that is in jeopardy thanks to Congress' inability to act."
Congress began its recess Aug. 2 and the House leadership decided not to take up the nutrition title before that break. "When Congress returns, that only leaves nine days for the House to pass a nutrition title, send it to the Senate, name conferees, agree to a compromise, and get a bill to the House and Senate for a vote," Scheer says. "Short of that, we'll end up with another extension or, worse yet, no farm bill at all."
While Nebraska's Congressional delegation supports a new farm bill, Scheer says it is still important for farmers to contact them. "We need to thank them for their support, but we also need them to put heat on the leadership to get something done.
"Additionally, Nebraska farmers should contact House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy urging action on the nutrition title so we can get a bill into conference that all of America can count on in the future."
The Nebraska Corn Board has established a page on its website that enables farmers to reach Nebraska and key federal policymakers via email to make comment. The link on the home page also includes a countdown indicating the amount of time left before Congress reconvenes. Once they are back in session, the House will have only nine working days until the current farm bill extension expires.
Visit www.nebraskacorn.org to access the contact information.
Scheer says Nebraska farmers should insist on new Farm Bill legislation. "Another extension would simply be kicking the can down the road. We need a Farm Bill that we can count on for five years—one that is in step with today's agricultural markets, strengthens our global leadership and provides a solid foundation for food security and economic vitality for our nation."