Another wait of nine months for farmers on the fiscal cliff

Jan. 04, 2013 @ 06:23 PM

The fiscal cliff deal, passed by Congress earlier in the week, included an extension of the 2008 farm bill, the legislation setting agricultural policy for the next five years.

The House of Representatives followed the Senate’s lead and agreed to a nine-month extension of the bill, which expired Sept. 30, 2012.

The extension kept federal milk subsidies from returning to what they were in 1949, the year the last permanent farm bill was written into law.

The Washington Times reported the cost of a gallon of milk could have escalated to $6 or $7, about double or more of the current price.

While an extension provided immediate relief for consumers, it left area farmers and agriculture leaders concerned with Congress’ inability to restore the bill.

“I’m really concerned congress didn’t act any sooner than they did to restore the farm bill,” said Gordon Wilder, a Vance County commissioner, and farmer of 35 years. “It really gives an example of what’s going on in Washington.”

Gordon has been involved in tobacco and grain farming since 1977. This year he’s decided to give the practice a rest, but remains very much involved with agriculture as a member of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Steering Committee, an organization formed through the National Association of Counties Organization.

“I was involved with some of the farm bill last year at the national level with NACO, but it’s changed so much since then,” Wilder said. “One of the things that really concerns me is our food supply is grown by farmers in our country, and if we don’t create a reasonable climate I think it could severely damage our food supply on down the highway.”

An extension of the farm bill has kept many farm programs intact, including crop insurance, and direct payment, a controversial farm subsidy which pays farmers whether they farm or not.

“Those are two of the biggest things for commodity farmers,” said Paul Westfall, Vance and Granville county extension director. “For farmers most of them are very disappointed that Congress could not put together a new farm bill in the last year.

“The bill was just extended. All the extension is doing is giving it another nine months for Congress to try and hammer out a new bill.”

Pete Burgess, board member for the Vance County Farm Bureau, started tobacco farming in 1968 and retired in 1995. He feels an extension of the farm bill doesn’t provide farmers with a sense of backing from the federal government.

“It kept federal crop insurance in place which is good,” Burgess said. “Other than that it doesn’t do anything for the farmers.

“My personal thought is farmers need some sort of stability, especially those that have to finance crops for the following year. It will be more difficult for them to find the financing they would need.”

Congress has until Sept. 30, 2013, to restore the farm bill, leaving farmers questioning what changes will be put in place for agricultural policy in the next five years.

Observers of the process believe the new Congress will have less money for agriculture programs, and farm interests have lost political clout.

“It’s on their mind because that farm bill can really, depending on what they’re growing, it can really affect them,” said Wayne Rowland, agriculture technician for Vance County Cooperative Extension. “It’s not going to be too long before they’re going to have to make a decision.”

Contact the writer at amauser@hendersondispatch.com.