Other programs impacted are the Specialty Crop Block Grant program and Specialty Crop Research Initiative that won’t be continued “absent passage by Congress of a (farm bill),” said Vilsack.

Conservation Reserve Program new contract sign-ups are now frozen while the USDA is “somewhat limited” on the CSP (Conservation Stewardship Program). “We still have some resource that can be used. But that resource could be used up fairly quickly and we won’t get anywhere near the Congressional mandate is relative to the number of acres they’re interested in enrolling in CSP.”

Export assistance is also reduced. “On the Export Assistance Program, we’re not going to be in a position to provide directly the help and assistance we’ve provided through the Market Access Program and some of the other trade promotion programs,” said Vilsack.

The USDA also will not “provide any additional assistance” to the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development program.

These are only some of the “casualties of Congressional inaction,” said Vilsack. “It’s unfortunate but, hopefully, when Congress returns after the election they’ll focus on the five-year (farm bill) done, starting with the House completing its work.”

The lack of a farm bill has caused “a great deal of stress. It didn’t have to be. There was plenty of time to get this done and there were the votes, in my view, to get it done.”

The reason it wasn’t, said Vilsack, “is there are folks in Congress who want to have much deeper and more significant cuts – not just to the nutrition programs but to the farm safety net, crop insurance, subsidies and conservation payments in the Commodity Title. They weren’t interested in having that conversation before the (November) elections. They prefer to have it afterwards.”

And lurking in the shadows is the possibility of sequestration. If the budget deal wrangled by the White House and Congress goes into effect, Vilsack said for most USDA programs it would mean “an across-the-board reduction line item at USDA … of about 8.2 percent. That would have a significant impact on the availability of offices and personnel to administer programs.”

Sequestration would “likely” mean “the need for furloughs in the food inspection area. Of course, a furlough could result in the potential for shutting down processing. If there isn’t an inspector, you can’t keep the plant open.”

The coming lame duck session “will feature a plethora of important issues that have also gone unresolved by this Congress, including the sequestration process, numerous tax and spending issues, and U.S. Postal Service reform,” said Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union president. “Therefore, it is absolutely critical that House Speaker John Boehner brings the farm bill to the floor early in the session to ensure it can be conferenced and finalized before Congress returns to their districts yet another recess in December.

“The longer Congress drags its feet, the harder their inaction will be felt by farmers, ranchers and, ultimately, all Americans.”