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Ag groups oppose farm bill extension

Some of the nation's biggest and most influential farm and conservation groups came out against a one-year extension of the current farm bill Monday, with some saying that it offers virtually none of the deficit cutting found in the pending 2012 farm bills and pays for drought aid by making even bigger cuts to conservation programs.

The House of Representatives is expected to vote Wednesday on extending the 2008 farm bill, in essence, ignoring a bipartisan bill passed by its own Agriculture Committee earlier this month.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, the nation's largest farm organization, said Monday that it will oppose the extension.

"A one-year extension offers our farm and ranch families nothing in the way of long-term policy certainty," AFBF President, Bob Stallman, said in a statement.

The extension bill, HR 6228, provides disaster assistance for livestock producers hit by this year's drought.

But, as Stallman pointed out Monday, the Senate-passed farm bill and the bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee already include disaster provisions for livestock farmers, and those measures would likely be included in any conference committee held for the long-term legislation. Meanwhile, the extension bill “does nothing to help hog or poultry producers, little to provide assistance to the dairy industry and nothing to aid fruit and vegetable producers who may not have crop insurance available to them as a risk management tool," he said.

“Both the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee have produced reform-minded, bipartisan bills that address many of the core principles we believe are important, such as strengthening crop insurance as a reliable risk management tool,” Stallman said. “We are encouraging members of the House and their leaders to recognize the example set by both the Senate and House Agriculture Committee chairs and ranking members to forge fiscally responsible bipartisan legislation. An extension falls well short of that target.”

The American Soybean Association said Monday that it, too, prefers a new five-year farm bill.

"A one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, combined with short-term disaster assistance to livestock producers, will not provide the certainty that agriculture needs now," ASA First Vice President, Danny Murphy, said in a statement.

The group didn't completely oppose an extension, however.

"ASA understands that a one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill may be all that can pass the House before it adjourns this week. We support moving the farm bill process forward, so that a conference can be convened in September, when Congress returns. ASA supports a one-year extension provided there are assurances that a new five-year bill can be negotiated at that time," Murphy said.

Other groups were less certain that a farm bill would result from passing an extension.

"We're not sure what the conference would do or if it means we can conference a farm bill," Laura Wood, director of government affairs for the National Association of Conservation Districts, told Agriculture.com Monday afternoon. The group, which represents 3,000 conservation districts across the nation, had been contacting members of the House all day to a express concern, she said. NACD was hearing a lot of uncertainty about the direction of farm legislation, she said.

NACD was also one of thirteen conservation groups writing House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) Monday "to convey our strong and unified disapproval of the way in which the House is addressing re-authorization of the Farm Bill" with the extension.

"…the House’s extension bill uses deep and disproportionate cuts to the Conservation Title of the bill to offset emergency drought payments that have been added to the extension. Of course we understand the need to respond to the drought and to the challenges and hardships it poses to farm families, but it makes little sense to pay for the emergency program almost entirely with cuts to the Conservation Title which represents a small proportion of the overall bill. (The Conservation Title is 30% of the farm program spending baseline, excluding nutrition programs, and 7% of the Farm Bill overall, but sustains 75% of funding cuts in this bill most of which are concentrated in the first two years making the cuts real and immediate)," the letter says.

The group cited a recent statement by NACD president, Gene Schmidt: "While we can't control the weather, long-term conservation planning is our best defense in protecting and preserving our natural resource base for the future. I think everyone would agree that it's better to continue to invest in conservation now, than to be forced to pay the escalated costs of repair down the road."

National Farmers Union, another group opposing the extension, called the move by House leaders a political game.

"An extension that ignores the goal of a five-year bill merely kicks the can down the road, as we are faced with uncertainty about next year’s budget. A one-year extension would also necessitate starting the farm bill drafting process over in the new Congress in January. House leadership needs to stop playing political games and show it values rural America, and pass a farm bill now," said NFU president, Roger Johnson.

“The conservation title is one of the few titles that, since last December, most stakeholders have agreed on," Johnson added.  "It provides the needed programs for good conservation practices. However, the House one-year extension cuts the one title that had the most agreement among all parties. It also cuts mandatory funding from vital beginning farmer and rancher, renewable energy and direct-to-consumer marketing programs."

One of the harshest critics of the extension is the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. (The coalition, along with Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever and NACD, was one of the 13 signers of the letter to Boehner Monday.)

"What is being offered is a political ploy aimed at trying to pass a highly controversial bill with no debate on the way out of town for a month long summer recess and then cynically blaming the other body and the other party for not following suit.  This would rank as just more political gamesmanship were it not for the real drought and real lives and livelihoods they are playing with, and were it not for the fact that if this bill passes, the 2012 Farm Bill dies.  For a farm bill process which has been relatively speaking marked by bicameral and bipartisan cooperation, this latest move is revolting, and as a result, we hope the rank and file of both parties will therefore revolt," said an analysis posted on the coalition's blog on Saturday.

According to the coalition: "The leadership bill would extend the current 2008 Farm Bill’s commodity and crop insurance subsidy programs and the SNAP or food stamp program without significant change and with absolutely no reform, while cutting farm bill conservation programs by $761 million.  The conservation cuts would offset the provision of two year’s worth of livestock and fruit and nursery tree disaster assistance.  Not satisfied to cut just enough to offset the disaster payments, they propose to cut conservation an additional $140 million over and above what was needed.

"The bill also pretends to cut one half of one percent ($261 million out of $50 billion) from commodity direct payments starting in 2014.  We say pretend not only because the cut is microscopic, but also because it would not kick in until after Congress rewrote the farm bill after the proposed one-year delay.  The proposed reduction in direct payments would almost certainly disappear in the farm bill rewrite next year, given the decision by both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees this year to terminate the direct payment program in its entirety in the new farm bill.  In effect, the extension bill would force taxpayers to spend another $5 billion for a program the House and Senate Agriculture have already decided deserves to be terminated," the group said.

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