WASHINGTON — When Farm Bill Now coalition representatives rallied here at the Capitol on the morning of Sept. 12, they were united in what they were urging Congress to do — pass a new, five-year Farm Bill before the current Farm Bill expires at the end of this month.
The Senate passed a 2012 Farm Bill earlier this summer and the House has a similar bill under consideration. That spurred the formation of a broad-based coalition of organizations that now represent a huge number of citizens who have varied interests in getting a new bill passed.
“Each individual organization — they include trade, commodity, consumer, nutrition and environmental organizations, as well as the major farm organizations — all have their own policy priorities, but we are together on this: We want to get a Farm Bill done,” Patrick Delaney, communications director for the American Soybean Association, told SN.
The diversity of the groups who make up the coalition underscores the fact that it is in everybody’s interest that Congress passes a comprehensive, new Farm Bill, Delaney argued.
He and others have said “Farm Bill” is a misnomer because such a bill has such far-reaching effects.
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As one representative of a major commodity organization put it, farmers want some certainty that a Farm Bill would provide, especially after this summer’s drought. “So much can happen that is out of farmers’ control; they need to know there is some government support when they need it,” he said.
Dairy herds are already being liquidated because this summer’s weather has so decimated feed crops. That means higher milk and meat prices.
If a Farm Bill is left in limbo beyond January, when farmers are already making spring planting plans, they’ll be wary of investing in crops. All of which means higher wholesale prices and higher retail prices.
While an extension of the current bill is an option for Congress, it is not what Farm Bill Now coalition members want.
“The new Farm Bill would be an entirely different piece of legislation. It has more resources for vegetable and fruit producers and for research initiatives,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president, public policy, United Fresh Produce Association.
“The Senate and the House bills are responsible pieces of legislation. For the most part, our programs actually get increases, but the bills are fiscally responsible.”
The Produce Marketing Association, also deeply involved in the Farm Bill Now coalition’s efforts, pushed for a new, comprehensive five-year bill.
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“A new Farm Bill is what we need, not an extension of the existing legislation,” PMA President and CEO Bryan Silbermann said in a statement.
“Not only does the [new] Farm Bill provide funding for industry-critical programs like research and conservation, it also improves consumers’ diets. … Just one example is the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program that provides fruit and vegetable snacks to school children.”
Some Farm Bill Now members who attended the rally said they came away feeling optimistic about a new Farm Bill getting passed even if it is done during the lame duck session of Congress after the November elections. Optimism sprang from the fact that ranking members of Congress attended the Sept. 12 rally. So did an unexpectedly large number of the coalition representatives. Attendees approximated 500 people came to the event.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, addressed the group, as did Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., a ranking member of the Committee on Agriculture, and Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.
The number of organizations in the Farm Bill Now coalition now tops 90.
What “we are advocating for is a whole new bill,” said American Soybean Association’s Delaney. “There are differences [between the Senate and House bills, and between individual organizations’ agendas] that have to be hashed out, but we’re not sitting still.”