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Farm bill failure draws industry ire

A failure by lawmakers to get a deal done on a new farm bill that would have ended direct farm payments has rankled farm-state legislators and ag group leaders who say party politics trumped the needs of the farm economy in last-minute negotiations.

As part of a flurry of last-minute action in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell included a 9-month extension of the 2008 farm bill into the "fiscal cliff bill," giving Congress until the end of September to move a new package into law. Notably included in the extension is the continuation of direct farm payments, something other lawmakers, lobbyists and industry leaders say will get in the way of funding of other key policy priorities, namely conservation and energy.

More of the latest on the Farm Bill & Fiscal Cliff

Reactions to the "endless excuses and lack of accountability" from farm country aren't pretty. It's a tough pill to swallow for farmers whose livelihoods depend on the ability to make sound business decisions based on the renewed policy, says Pam Johnson, president of the National Corn Growers Association.

"America’s farmers have clearly made known the importance and need of a new farm bill in 2012. Once again Congress' failure to act pushes agriculture aside hampering farmers' ability to make sound business decisions for the next five years.  The National Corn Growers Association is tired of the endless excuses and lack of accountability. The system is clearly broken," Johnson said in an NCGA statement released Wednesday. "We hope the 113th Congress proves to be more fruitful and that the leaders in Congress can place petty partisanship aside to create a bill that benefits all of America."

The implications of what likely amounts to another year of direct payments hits several sectors of agriculture harder than others. National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) president Ferd Hoefner says the continuation of direct payments takes money away from programs like conservation, and sends a clear message in Congress.

"Many smaller, targeted programs to fund farm and food system reform and rural jobs...were left out completely. Also left out of the final deal is any  workable dairy policy for the next year and any disaster aid for livestock and fruit producers. The deal also has the effect of keeping farmers from being able to improve soil and water conservation through enrollment in the Conservation Stewardship Program at the present time," Hoefner says in an NSAC statement released Wednesday. "We are extremely disappointed in the Republican leadership for proposing  this deal and in the White House for accepting it. The message is unmistakable -- direct commodity subsidies, despite high market prices, are sacrosanct, while the rest of agriculture and the rest of rural America can simply drop dead."

Dairy farmers face arguably the toughest outcome from Tuesday's extension. Versions of the farm bill approved by the Senate then later by the House Agriculture Committee last year included a Dairy Security Act that essentially provides a safety net under dairy market prices. But, the extension spearheaded by McConnell leaves that provision on the table and dairy farmers could pay a hefty price for that, says Jerry Kozak, president of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF).

"These stop-gap efforts don’t even qualify as kicking the can down the road. It’s little more than a New Year’s Day, hair-of-the-dog stab at temporarily putting off decisions that should have been made in 2012 about how to move farm policy forward, not offer more of the same," Kozak says in an NMPF statement released Tuesday. "The House Agriculture Committee also passed a farm bill in 2012 that includes the Dairy Security Act. The bills in both chambers end the price support program that, starting today, will revert back to 1949 levels. But more importantly, they also eliminate direct payments and export subsidies, and establish a voluntary risk management tool for farmers that would save the government money.

"Despite the progress made in 2012 on the farm bill, we’re starting 2013 on a bad note," he adds.



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