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Nearly all of ag wants farm bill action

On Tuesday, the day that Congress starts its lame-duck session, 235 groups representing nearly every facet of agriculture sent a letter to leaders of the House of Representatives asking for a vote on the 2012 farm bill.

"This legislation is of paramount importance to the diverse, bipartisan constituencies our organizations represent," the letter said. "Failure to pass a new five-year farm bill before the year’s end will create significant budget uncertainty for the entire agricultural sector, including the rural businesses and lenders whose livelihoods are dependent upon farmers’ and livestock producers’ economic viability."

The letter was sent to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD).

Groups signing on included National Farmers Union, National Corn Growers Association, the American Soybean Association, and a host of groups representing wheat, grapes, tomatoes, pears, and dairy production, among others. Allied industries including equipment manufacturers, crop insurance, and the American Society of Agronomy joined in.

As the letter puts it, "The undersigned organizations, representing the farming, livestock, specialty crop, feed, rural development, nutrition, health, conservation, woodland owners, municipalities, trade, manufacturing, agricultural research, crop insurance and renewable energy communities, respectfully request passage of a new five-year farm bill to be signed into law before the end of the legislative session in December 2012."

In a separate statement to the media, the Agriculture Energy Coalition said it has joined the push for a farm bill soon. The group includes lobbies for the ethanol industry.

“Expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill already has created economic uncertainty for U.S. renewable energy companies, threatening to stop the growth of a vital segment of the U.S. economy, strand private sector investments and eliminate good paying jobs," the coalition said. "A five-year extension of the Farm Bill with mandatory funding for the energy title is needed to keep these companies investing and creating jobs in the United States; a temporary extension of the already expired legislation would not provide certainty for businesses."

American Farm Bureau Federation didn't sign on, although the group has backed earlier efforts, and it also supports passage of a farm bill during the lame-duck session, which ends in late December.

Farm Bureau had hoped for farm bill passage before the election. "Now it's a lame duck must-do," the group's lobbyist, Dale Moore, said in its November 5 newspaper.

Conservation groups, including the National Association of Conservation Districts, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership signed on as well.

Some of the same groups also joined more than 40 conservation and environmental groups that wrote Boehner separately on Monday.

Due to expiration of the 2008 farm bill, natural resources "are in jeopardy," their letter said.

"When the Farm Bill expired in September, it had consequences. No new enrollments are possible in the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, Grassland Reserve Program, and Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative," the letter said. "The enrollment authorities for these programs have expired, and because a new five-year farm bill has not yet been enacted, the changes made to these programs by both the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee to preserve program functions while consolidating and streamlining program delivery have not yet taken effect. In addition, the Continuing Resolution created a technical problem that means no new enrollment is possible in the Conservation Stewardship Program in FY 13."

"We strongly urge you to build on the hard work already done by both the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee and complete a full five-year Farm Bill this year…" the letter said.

"Should an extension of the old bill become necessary, however, then we urge you to extend all conservation programs in a manner that allows for 2013 enrollments without any further delay or interruption," the conservation groups said.

Another 162 groups that represent beginning and minority farmers also wrote to the leaders of the Senate and House agriculture committees Tuesday calling for a farm bill soon. The groups pointed out that programs benefitting those farmers expired in October with the old farm bill.

"Two of those programs have proven their ability to help new farmers and ranchers -- the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program," the groups said.

A broad coalition of conservative, small-government groups took the opposite side on a farm bill Tuesday.

FreedomWorks, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, and Americans for Tax Reform, headed by Grover Norquist, were among the groups opposing immediate passage of a five-year farm bill.

"While our organizations have varying goals for farm and food policy, we are united in our conviction that this Congress cannot and should not address a Farm Bill that could cost taxpayers nearly $1 trillion over the next 10 years in a lame-duck session," the groups said in an open letter to members of the House. "A five-year bill will have sweeping fiscal, social, and environmental impacts and should be the result of careful and transparent deliberation. In our view, this Congress simply does not have the time to undertake such legislation this year."

The group is also asking that "any extension of current law does not include renewal of direct payments."

One of those smaller government groups opposed to a lame-duck farm bill, Taxpayers for Common Sense, was joined by the Environmental Working Group in an op-ed in The Des Moines Register Tuesday that called for waiting.

"Congress should instead pass a responsible farm bill extension that is paid for with modest cuts to farm subsidies and reflects the nation’s spending priorities, supports family farmers, and protects the environment," The EWG said in a statement. "Lawmakers must fully fund critical conservation programs –- including those that protect and restore wetlands and grasslands, set reasonable limits on runaway crop insurance subsidies, and end the $10 billion practice of paying private insurers to sell their policies."

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