The expiration of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 — also known as the Farm Bill — on Sept. 30 has put producers and consumers in a guessing game about the future.
The legislative bundle that sets national agricultural, nutritional, conservation and forestry policy is passed every five years, and the progress is at a standstill in the U.S. House of Representatives. U.S. legislators will now pass a new bill, extend the old one or do nothing.
While they wait for Washington, local producers are concerned with the “what ifs” of the next few months. Some programs tied to the legislation will continue unchanged, some will disappear,and others will revert to a permanent law set in 1949.
These unknowns throw a wrench in forecasting.
“It takes a while to plan in agriculture,” Derek Sawyer, a past president of the McPherson County Farm Bureau and a current leader of U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance. “We’re busy not only planning for spring crops but for the year after that. We need to know the rules and regulations we’re going to be under so we can plan for the future. It’s hard to know what we’re doing when they can come out a year from now and change the rules.”
Those behind conservation programs also are unsure of how authority or funding will be affected. In 2011, 8,161 CRP acres in McPherson County were contracted through the Natural Resource Conservation Program. Those under contract will continue funding, but new applications can't be accepted until the agencies know what money is available.
“I don’t think we’ll know the complete impact right now,” said Mike Westerman of the McPherson Farm Service Agency. “The longer we wait the less assistance will be available. I think once we get past the first of the year, there will be more concerns.”
If legislators remain inactive past Jan. 1, a permanent law passed 63 years ago will be fired up. This outdated law could force prices to skyrocket and be detrimental on producers and consumers trading in the U.S. and abroad.
Two influential programs will not be affected by the Farm Bill's expiration, according to a joint statement of agriculture agencies on the National Corn Growers Association website. This includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and crop insurance provisions.
It is possible, however, they would be hurt if a new bill passes.
“If we hadn’t had payments come in during the past two years of drought, local people would have been more stressed to pay their bills,” said Jonie James, McPherson County agriculture agent for K-State Research and Extension. “Without that, the level of risk would really increase. It’s been a tool that’s proved to really work. Taking that away is huge.”
Page 2 of 2 - Troy Dumler, agriculture economist with Kansas State University, said he expects the 2008 Farm Bill to be extended during the congressional lame duck period in mid-November.