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PrattTribune - Pratt, KS
  • Farm bill a low priority in Congress

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  • When Congress finally gets around to debating a farm bill, crop insurance and direct payments for commodities will be two key elements at the top of discussion.
    But the farm bill is not a high priority for the new congress. Bigger budget issues have priority before Congress will start work on a new farm bill, said K-State Extension Agriculture Economist Troy Dumler.
    "The farm bill is in a holding pattern," Dumler said.
    When the debate begins, farmers will keep a close eye on the status of crop insurance.
    The entire state is in drought conditions with almost 80 percent of the state in extreme drought conditions and a little over a third of the state in exceptional drought conditions.
    After two years of drought, the loss of dry land crops and yield reduction in irrigated crops has made the necessity of crop insurance even more important.
    Compound that with the ever-increasing equipment and production costs, a solid crop insurance element in the farm bill is essential for farmers.
    Another key element in the farm bill is replacing direct payments for commodities that are no longer offered. It will probably be replaced with something similar to crop insurance or a revenue support program.
    About 80 percent of the last farm bill was dedicated to nutrition programs and have nothing to do with agriculture.
    Getting changes in the amount of funding for nutrition programs will be difficult. The far right elements want big cuts in the nutrition programs while those on the left want little or no cuts in the program.
    A difference of opinion among the Republican leadership could impact dairy programs. Some want significant changes but the Speaker of the House doesn't like them at all, Dumler said.
    Whatever happens with the farm bill, it looks like it will take a similar path as it did in the 2012 Congress when the bill didn't get passed.
    Both House and Senate Agriculture Committees will probably get bills to their respective Houses but that is where it will probably hit a snag.
    "I don't see a problem getting the Senate to pass a farm bill. The problem is in the House," Dumler said.
    It's harder to get agreement in the House than in the Senate. The House Agriculture Committee passed an ag bill but the House never brought it to a vote.
    The Senate already has a placeholder bill in place for a farm bill debate.
    It's far easier to get compromise in the Senate. But the House has to deal with filibuster making it much more difficult to get a majority to vote on the farm bill.
    Page 2 of 2 - That could mean an extension of the 2008 bill would come into play just like it did in 2012.
    Since a farm bill was not passed in 2012, the 2008 farm bill had to be extended. If Congress had not taken that action, the farm bill would revert to legislation passed in 1939 and 1949 when many government controls were in place including high price support, how many acres a farmer could grow and when and what they could plant and many other aspects of farming.
    If that had happened the price of milk would have doubled and the price of wheat could have jumped to $14 a bushel.
    With prices like that, more acres would be planted eventually creating huge surpluses that would drive prices down and be a financial problem for farmers.
    That possibility forces Congress to take some legislative action even it if just an extension of the 2008 farm bill.
    Fortunately, farm income has been pretty good over the last five years even with the drought. Farmers are able to adjust to less government support now because of commodity prices.
    However, if the drought continues in another year or two it could be very rough on farmers so Congress needs get a farm bill passed.
    "Hopefully Congress will do something before the end of September to get a new bill passed," Dumler said.

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