Congress needs to get to work on Farm Bill

Once every five years, Congress is called upon to pass a Farm Bill, one that sets government policy on a wide variety of agriculture programs, from commodity trade programs, to conservation programs, to organic agriculture, to support for beginning farmers and ranchers, to loans and subsidies to protect farmers’ income, to bioenergy programs, to nutrition programs for the poor.

It is a five-year bill so that farmers and ranchers have some stability and continuity as they make plans for their operations in the near and not so near future.

Congress recently allowed the current farm bill to expire, with nothing to replace it. Even with five years to come up with a bill, Congress got caught up in partisan bickering over various sticking points, especially over who gets access to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) program (food stamps). And when congresspeople get caught up like that, they dig in and fire criticism at the other side, trying to affix blame rather than fix the law.

Right now, the Senate, which passed a traditionally bipartisan bill 86-11 in June, is in conflict with the House’s more partisan version, which would add work requirements for those receiving SNAP assistance.

Farming programs are not going to stop dead without a farm bill. SNAP appropriations will continue for now, along with crop insurance, which is part of a separate act. But funding for conservation programs, trade assistance programs and specialty crop programs have ended. Unless Congress can act quickly to pass a farm bill, farmers will be heading into next year not knowing what programs, if any, they can rely on.

Congress needs to button up its bib overalls and get to work on this right now.