The current farm bill took effect five years ago in 2007. Disaster coverage in the bill expired with the 2011 crop year.
Now, a 1930s- vintage drought is plaguing farm country. Livestock and dairy farmers are especially hard hit.
In spite of so many hard working family farmers in dire straits, a new farm bill is held up in the House of Representatives by politics.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate considered and passed thoughtful legislation. Members of the House Agriculture Committee have written their own bill, too. Both versions have differences.
Ordinarily, the way those would be cured is by passage in each legislative body, combining and sending the bills to committee where final language would be written and sent to the president for his signature.
THAT HAS always worked before. Problem is, Republican leadership refuses to bring the House bill to a vote.
The amount of money budgeted to USDA amounts to about 2 percent of the entire federal budget.
It is hardly a budget-buster. House members and staff who the Farmers Union spoke with in Washington, D.C., told us that’s not the problem because just 20 percent of USDA spending is for actual farm programs like crop insurance and conservation.
IF ONLY 20 percent of farm-bill spending goes directly to farms, where does the rest go? About 80 percent of the other 80 percent is for food and nutrition programs for four groups; elderly people whose retirement (Social Security) income is inadequate, low-wage working poor, children, and the disabled.
Critics point to fraud and misappropriation as reasons why the program should be curtailed, but according to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, the USDA has reduced fraud and mistakes to below 1 percent for food programs known as SNAP.
That compares to fraud and mistaken payments in farm programs amounting to about 7 percent.
Is the need for food assistance real?
Having served on a local rural school board where many students qualified for free and reduced meals, I believe it is.
Could that spending be trimmed?
That is not an issue. The Senate cut $4 billion from food programs in its bill. The House ag committee cut $16 billion.
But, the House bill must be voted on and passed before anything can happen.
On Sept. 12, a broad coalition of more than 80 farm groups supported a rally in Washington, D.C., to support enactment of a five-year farm bill.
Many titles in the current bill expire this month.
The House has managed to pass a very small Band-Aid disaster bill that would have been paid for with deep cuts to farm conservation programs.
Besides asking for a farm bill, the group asked the Senate not to accept stand-alone disaster aid because U.S. family farms stood to lose even more by accepting it.
Also, times call for the equivalent of a farmer owned “strategic oil reserve” for food and feed grain.
We have surpassed early farm-bill goals for market clearing prices.
The new problem is wide price and supply variation caused by unpredictable weather and markets.
A study commissioned by National Farmers Union created a concept known as voluntary MDIS or Market Driven Inventory System.
Markets responsible for long term farm profitability — things like renewable fuels and DDG by-products, exports, livestock feed, and food production — all are at risk due to extreme market volatility.
MDIS ENROLLMENTS and releases would be entirely voluntary, based on preset price triggers.
But, we all know to grow it, someone first has to plant it.
The farm bill is seed money for our nations food supply.
Congress should be sowing the crop.
Richard R. Oswald is president of the Missouri Farmers Union.