Fiscal cliff debate results in farm bill extension

New process begins to draft agriculture programs in 2013
January 31, 2013
In June, Sen. Tom Carper talked about the future of the farm bill with (l-r) Walt Hopkins, Burli Hopkins and Sydni Geiman, whose father works at the Lewes-area dairy farm. BY RACHEL SWICK MAVITY

The state’s farmers and consumers can breathe a bit easier after Congress passed a 9-month extension of the expiring Farm Bill as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations.

The Farm Bill expired Sept. 30, 2012, but the deal re-authorizes the bill until Sept. 30, 2013..

The extension gives legislators more time to pass a new bill.

Last summer, the U.S. Senate passed its version of the farm bill, which replaced direct payments to farmers with new insurance policies.

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper backed the move, and was hopeful last fall that the U.S. House would take similar action. The House version of the farm bill was never voted on. Carper said now legislators will start the process of building a new farm bill.

Walt Hopkins of Green Acres Dairy Farm and Hopkins Creamery outside Lewes said the extension will hold the line, but it help improve the dairy industry.

“The extension is better than nothing, but it’s not good enough,” Hopkins said. “We need something different.”

Hopkins said he watches the political atmosphere in Washington, D.C., regularly and isn’t afraid to contact his legislators to push for improvements to agriculture programs.

“The rising costs of corn and soybeans make it hard for ends to meet,” Hopkins said. “We don’t want milk prices to skyrocket, but we want the dairy industry to be profitable.”

The Hopkins family has been producing dairy products since 1941. Today, the farm is milking more than 500 cows and produces more than 12 million pounds of milk each year, Hopkins said.

The dairy farm sells to Land O'Lakes, which supports the farm bill because it will help stabilize milk prices.

In addition to increasing milk prices, the proposed farm bill would allow dairy farmers to insure up to 90 percent of their cows, which provides a safety net for dairy farmers. In the past, dairy farmers could insure fewer cows.

The bill would also allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to control milk supplies, and keeps milk prices stable for consumers. Through the proposed Farm Bill program, USDA officials would send out notices when milk supplies are high or low to give dairy farmers a chance to adjust production to meet demands. Hopkins said he hopes these key programs remain in the Farm Bill.

Daniel Shortridge, spokesman for the Delaware Department of Agriculture said the extension ensures federal farm programs will continue short-term.

“There will be no immediate impact on many of Delaware's farmers as a result of the extension. The status quo is in place through the fall,” Shortridge said.

The U.S. Senate passed a five-year farm bill over the summer, and the House Agriculture Committee approved a similar bill, but it never reached the House floor for a vote.

Congressman John Carney said, “Though I was relieved that Congress was able to pass a nine-month extension of the farm bill as part of the legislation to avert the fiscal cliff, my strong preference was for a five-year reauthorization.”

Leadership in the House was not willing to bring the Farm Bill to the floor for a vote.

“It is very frustrating that the full House of Representatives was not able to debate, amend and pass a long-term farm bill during this Congress, and I hope that the House leadership will move to consideration of a five-year bill in the near future,” Carney said.

Sen. Tom Carper also expressed frustration at the House’s inability to pass the reauthorization in 2012. Carper lobbied across Sussex County for the farm bill during the fall when many farmers were facing lost crops due to the summer drought.

Under existing regulations, farmers can insure 75 percent of their crops. If passed, the Farm Bill could increase that number to 85 percent, allowing many farmers to have a safety net to fall back on in years with poor crop yields.

The farm bill approved by the Senate would reduce the deficit by $23.6 billion, eliminate wasteful spending and provides farmers with critical safety net, Carper said.

“The [Senate] legislation would institute a new crop insurance program by getting rid of the so-called direct payments program, giving farmers and growers the security they need to continue their trade but at a much lower cost to the American taxpayer,” Carper said.

In a press release, Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union expressed concern over the temporary extension.

“An extension represents a shortsighted, temporary fix that ultimately provides inadequate solutions that will leave our farmers and ranchers crippled by uncertainty,” Johnson said.


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