Last year’s attempt at a new five-year farm bill to replace the expiring policy was uprooted when the clock ran out. While I was pleased with the Senate-passed legislation, it never made its way to the President’s desk. The result was a last-minute extension of the current policy enacted in 2008 for yet another year.
While this development was far from ideal, the alternative—reverting to policy from the 1940s—was a much worse option for farmers, ranchers and consumers. The archaic policy would have been difficult for the Department of Agriculture to implement, and could have impacted producers’ planting decisions and grocery store prices.
The one-year extension has no impact on the existing crop insurance program, which is quickly becoming farmers’ favorite method of managing risks. It also authorizes disaster assistance for livestock producers, which expired in the last quarter of 2011, and protects consumers from volatile prices for milk and essential foods that would have been triggered by the 1940s ag policy.
Now, Congress must refocus its efforts, building upon momentum generated last year to finally pass a five-year reform-minded farm bill that provides for better risk management and improved trade opportunities while at the same time, reducing the deficit. We did this in the Senate last year, and I am optimistic we can do it again in 2013.
Legislation last year would have saved between $23 and $35 billion. The Senate-passed version achieved this by ending direct and countercyclical payments, simplifying and streamlining conservation programs, trimming nutrition spending and curbing fraud and waste. It also increased emphasis on the crop insurance program, which has proven to be a better use of tax dollars than the historic, costly ad hoc disaster assistance packages for farmers faced with weather-damaged crops.
The Senate passed a strong farm bill with an encouraging demonstration of bipartisan commitment to improve outdated policy and save taxpayer dollars. This is, at the very least, a strong foundation to resume talks for a new, reform-minded and fiscally responsible five-year farm bill this year.
While momentum is on our side, we cannot let any grass grow under our feet. The sooner we start, the quicker we can move forward with a final bill.
Chairwoman Stabenow and Chairman Lucas of the Senate and House Ag Committees have indicated they are making this a priority in 2013. I am optimistic that all of this can get done in a way that serves our farmers well and saves the taxpayer’s money.
America’s farmers and ranchers feed and fuel the world. They continue to be a bright spot in an anemic economy, and it is important that we give them the certainty they need through up-to-date ag policy.