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What are we waiting for on the next farm bill? Christmas?

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  • House leaders have indicated they're in no hurry to pass a new farm bill.
  • Officials from Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack to House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas have asked them to reconsider and start the process of helping the nation's farmers through the worst drought in decades.
  • If House leaders continue to delay, Congress could be debating a farm bill during Christmas, the way they did in 1996.

A group of congressmen have written House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor urging them to schedule a vote on H.R. 6083, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2012. That's the official name of the farm bill the House Agriculture Committee reported out by a vote of 35-11 a few days ago.

While half of the nation's corn and soybean crops are burning up from the worst drought conditions in 25 years, and cotton and rice farmers are facing a reduced harvest and low price prospects, House leaders appear to be stalling, trying to avoid a floor vote on the legislation that some say would pit Republican "traditionalists" against Tea Party members.

Rep. Lucas vows to do all he can to complete farm bill

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Democratic members of the Agriculture Committee, including the committee's ranking member and former chairman, Collin Peterson, have ridiculed Boehner and Cantor, noting that they had time to schedule yet another vote -- the 33rd -- on the repeal of the Affordable Health Care Act, but won't take time to debate legislation that could make the difference for the nation's farmers when they begin counting their receipts this fall.

Some have said the vote is not important, that Congress can simply vote to extend the 2008 farm bill before it's scheduled expiration on Sept. 30. The facts are that some important disaster assistance programs have already expired and won't be renewed until a new farm bill passes or Congress votes to reauthorize funding for them. The chances of Congress doing the latter in the current political climate are nil.

As far as avoiding a confrontation, Boehner, who's had more than his share of problems with the Tea Party members in his caucus, should schedule a vote and let the latter show their true feelings for the nation's farmers.

In case you think, we're being too harsh with Congressmen Boehner and Cantor, here's what the American Soybean Association's leaders had to say about the potential stalemate in a press release today:

“As worsening drought conditions continue to envelop more than half of the United States, the American Soybean Association (ASA) is pointing to the Farm Bill currently stalled and awaiting debate by the full House of Representatives as an essential means of ensuring the continued coverage of American farmland through crop insurance and risk management, as well as disaster assistance programs.

“As conditions deteriorate throughout much of rural America and the outlook for farmers becomes bleaker and bleaker, we are reminded that farming is subject to so many elements and risks outside of the farmer’s control. This further emphasizes the need for programs to help farmers manage risks in order to stay viable and plant next year,” said ASA President Steve Wellman, a soybean farmer from Syracuse, Neb. 

“Currently, 85 percent of soybean acres in the United States are covered by crop insurance, however Wellman says that it should not be misconstrued as a profit center for farmers. “Just as when homeowners insurance replaces valuables following a flood or a fire, crop insurance only covers farmers in the event of a significant loss,” he said. “These policies often have deductibles or loss levels at 25 percent or more. They aren’t there to turn a profit; they exist to help farmers survive and keep farming.”

“Wellman added that the current conditions point directly to the benefits provided by revenue-based risk management programs. “Revenue-based risk management tools that complement crop insurance ensure that farmers who suffer a crop loss—and accompanying revenue loss—receive the assistance they need to remain viable,” he said. “In contrast, a target price-based program would provide no assistance to farmers affected by the drought since it would activate only if prices are low and then only on actual production.”

“For these reasons and countless others,” Wellman said, “ASA calls on Speaker Boehner and House leadership to schedule floor time to consider and pass a farm bill so that it can be conferenced with the Senate and a new farm bill can be enacted this year.” 

“Additionally, Wellman, who is also a cow-calf producer, noted the importance of the bill’s disaster assistance provisions to American livestock producers, who are tied closely to soybean farmers. “Our colleagues in the livestock industry, who depend on soybeans as a steady source of protein-rich feed, are facing an extremely difficult challenge,” he said. “The disaster assistance provisions in the farm bill will provide these key soy allies with the disaster assistance they need this year.”

“The policies that the House and Senate Agriculture Committees worked to include in the farm bill will help farmers deal with the drought, the heat and the galaxy of other real-world risks that agriculture faces,” added Wellman. “It is imperative that the House acts immediately on the farm bill so that these programs can continue to benefit American agriculture.” 

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