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Don’t forget my Farm Bill! Agriculture legislation off to a slow start

By Paris Walter | Published Saturday, April 13, 2013

All I want for graduation is an updated Farm Bill. Seriously.

OK, I take that back. I would also like a new truck, but that’s beside the point.

Congress passes a Farm Bill every five to seven years in order to tend to affairs in the agriculture industry. It is a bundle of legislation that deals with anything from agriculture subsidy programs to international trade. It is just about the most important piece of legislation that impacts anyone involved in agriculture.

Paris Walther

Paris Walther

There are 15 parts to the Farm Bill. Many of them help protect the farmer from risks such as weather, plant disease and insect infestations.

The most current version of the bill, called the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, increased food stamp benefits, grew support for the production of cellulosic ethanol, and raised money for research into pests, diseases and other problems. It expired Sept. 30 and was not renewed.

So now we don’t have one.

OK, that’s technically not true – we are running on an extension of the previous bill. Congress decided to extend parts of the expired 2008 Farm Bill through Sept. 30, 2013, as part of a last-minute package to avoid fallout from the “fiscal cliff.”

But that bothers me.

The extension does not include disaster aid for farmers or mandatory funding for the energy component of the bill, specialty crops or beginning farmers and ranchers.

This leaves a major chunk of the industry waiting for relief, and the only way to catch these stragglers is to pass another bill addressing their issues.

As 2012 wrapped up rather brokenly from the fiscal cliff business, there was talk that Congress would delay further action regarding the Farm Bill until the spring of 2013. This left seven months of down time in between.

I threw a bit of a hissy fit.

This partial extension already leaves more than 30 programs unfunded, but on top of that they left these programs abandoned for almost seven months.

I have a hard time with the fact that these programs are being pushed to the side. Regardless of the fiscal cliff, or the end of the world for that matter, these programs needed to be addressed in the beginning, before the extension was hastily put to work.

One of the more disheartening facts about delaying the Farm Bill is that this hinders farmers’ ability to make sound business decisions for the next five years. With the extension lasting only one year, farmers and ranchers can’t exactly plan ahead as they typically would.

But don’t worry, the story finally gets better.

On April 8, 2013, after being approved by the American Farm Bureau Federation directors, a Farm Bill proposal was sent straight to Capitol Hill.

This proposal:

  • offers farmers a choice of program options;
  • protects and strengthens the federal crop insurance program without reducing its funding;
  • provides a commodity title that works to encourage farmers to follow market signals rather than making planting decisions in anticipation of government payments;
  • refrains from basing any program on cost of production; and
  • ensures equity across program commodities.

One of the popular features of this new plan is that the AFBF says it will save $23 billion compared to the cost of continuing the current program.

Of course, this is merely a proposal and has a chance of being knocked down, but I feel like this is a step in the right direction.

At least it’s action for goodness’ sake.

This means that we may not have to ride the extension much longer, and that’s enough to make anyone slightly giddy.

Or maybe it’s just me.

Obviously not everyone will be happy with the Farm Bill when all is said and done. It is much too large a legislation to satisfy everyone, but I think that’s OK. If we aren’t happy with it, it means we’re paying attention to what it’s doing. That puts us in a better position to fix it – and that’s enough to change an industry.

My ag teacher likes to say that without agriculture we would be hungry, naked and homeless.

If I’m not mistaken, I think we could say similar things about the Farm Bill.

Paris Walther is a senior at Decatur High School. To read more from our Youth Spoken reporters, visit WCMessenger.com/youthspoken.

One Response to “Don’t forget my Farm Bill! Agriculture legislation off to a slow start”

  1. Cindy Berry says:

    Paris, for four years I’ve loved reading your columns, and they just keep getting better and better. Wow, this one totally blows me away – it’s so mature and thoughtful and caring – just like you!

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