Let them Eat … The Importance of Passing the 2012 Farm Bill Now

The Farm Bill is legislation that governs an array of agricultural and food programs. The importance of such a bill is evident to a state whose major industry is agriculture. The most recent farm bill, The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, was enacted in June of that year and is overdue for renewal. In point of fact, portions of that bill have expired as of the end of this last September. It’s essential we have a long-term Farm Bill that is fiscally responsible while ensuring the growth and well-being of such an important industry. So, why hasn’t the bill been renewed and what does this delay mean for North Dakota’s agriculturally rich landscape?

With Congress in a lame duck session and under pressure to resolve several key issues prior to the new year, it’s unlikely the farm bill will be passed this year, despite the legislation’s possible contributions to reducing the nation’s deficit. As of this writing, the Senate had passed their version of the bill in June calling for reduced spending by $23 billion over 10 years. The House’s version, which had been approved by the House Agriculture Committee in July, stalled amidst pre-election hoopla prior to being approved by the entire delegation. The House’s version calls for a $35 billion cut. The major point of contention between the two proposed versions of the bills is the spending for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) formerly referred to as food stamps. The Senate bill is expected to cut $4 billion from the program with the House calling for $16 billion in cuts.

For North Dakota, the benefits of the Farm Bill are as obvious as they are important. The 2008 version of the bill provided North Dakota farmers with, among other things, disaster assistance, participation in the Federal crop insurance program and access to energy-smart technologies. Some of the issues to watch for in the 2012 bill are the safety net for producers that insure stability in the market, conservation programs and environmental issues as well as the fate of SNAP, which will play a key role in the bill’s passage.

Both the Senate and House versions of the bill call for significant reforms to agricultural policy and are expected to make the legislation more efficient. The bill would be effective until 2017 and is designed to save taxpayer money and strengthen initiatives for farmers and ranchers, all of which are necessary to the continued survival of North Dakota farmers.

While Congress faces a myriad of issues this session, it appears that the farm bill continues to get kicked down the road in favor of these other issues. Rather than passage, many expect a temporary stop-gap to be approved while lawmakers finish crafting the legislation. This delay could be detrimental for farmers. If a short-term solution is passed this year, it would likely enable farmers to secure operating loans on favorable terms. However, baseline spending levels will reset towards the end of the first quarter which could possibly cause the existing version of the bill to be reworked but on much leaner terms. This won’t do for North Dakota farmers. The new legislation is needed so they can continue to operate their businesses at reasonable rates.

The passage of this legislation is important for all North Dakotans, not just those working in agriculture. Despite the oil boom in the West, agriculture remains essential to the Roughrider State’s economy. Protecting the industry is vital for everyone in the state and the first step to ensuring its continued prosperity is the passage of the Farm Bill.

Speak Your Mind