Many people aren’t engaged in the ongoing farm bill debate that has been brewing in Congress because the simple name allows us to think it’s a bill that affects farmers. Although many of us in agriculture are affected directly by the legislation, the farm bill really should be rebranded as the food, energy and jobs bill.
Community Agriculture Alliance
This weekly column about agriculture issues is written by area farmers, ranchers and policymakers. It publishes on Fridays in the Steamboat Today. Read more columns here.
The bill affects every resident, and the ripple effect from the changes, or lack of changes, will be felt by all of us. The sheer size of the bill at $500 billion in these times of budget gridlock has increased the controversy in what historically has been a relatively bipartisan bill.
Our Constitution requires the House (our representative is Scott Tipton) and Senate (our senators are Michael Bennet and Mark Udall) to pass identical legislation before it goes to the president; several roadblocks to agreement have hindered them from meeting this requirement.
For example, the House wants to drop a $20 million provision in the 2008 farm bill that mandates inspection of catfish by the USDA. Even though there is an inspection program already in place through the FDA, the Senate maintains that the extra level of inspection increases food safety.
A federal program that keeps the prices of sugar above the rest of the world market also is a debated topic. Candy makers are threatening to move abroad if the program remains while sugar producers rely on the subsidy to stay in business.
The House and Senate versions each cut funding for conservation programs, but the House spends more on the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and less on the Conservation Reserve Program and the Conservations Stewardship Program. The House proposes converting some of the farm bill provisions to permanent laws, reducing future uncertainty, while the Senate prefers the sunset amendments that have been in place for more than 50 years.
More than 75 percent of the farm bill’s funding is allocated for nutrition assistance in the United States. The food stamp program, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, perhaps is the biggest point of contention hindering passage of the 2013 farm bill.
The House wants to see $39 billion in cuts to the program. The House proposal revolves around guarantees that every recipient is working, drug free and in actual need of government assistance. The Senate is proposing about $4.5 billion in cuts.
The resistance to large cuts in food assistance programs revolves around the idea that low-income Americans should not go hungry in a country as rich as the United States. The proposed House cuts could mean that more than 2 million Americans would lose access to affordable meals.
Government-supported programs help absorb the wild fluctuations in commodities and keep food and energy prices somewhat stable. The long-range planning required in any agricultural business is compromised when issues like the farm bill are delayed. A comprehensive farm bill allows the industry not only to plan and make business decisions, but it helps smooth out the ripple effect felt by all of us when major changes occur.
Christy Belton is a member of Routt County Cattlewomen and a ranch and land Realtor. She and her husband own a cow/calf, yearling and hay operation in the Elk River Valley.