Reports say a deal has been struck between the House and Senate to extend the 2008 farm bill.

This comes after lawmakers, paying scant attention to a self-imposed deadline on the “fiscal cliff” for months, have even proven reluctant to act on a pivotal budget deal as the time for legislative horse-trading draws to a rapid close. November election results didn’t stop the squabbling over Bush-era tax cuts and, in fact, only emboldened Republican factions to dig in their heels during the lame duck session.

Now, just as agriculture policy leaders in both chambers predicted, a new, comprehensive farm bill has been caught up in the highly partisan environment. Chances for a new farm bill have withered on the vine since last summer when the Senate passed its version and, shortly after, the House Agriculture Committee followed suit. However, the full House never had the chance to vote on a new farm bill and, if given the nod, reconcile with the Senate.

Full farm bill coverage here.

Finally, on Sunday (Dec. 30) – four days from cliff-falling and two days away from dairy policy reverting to 1949 law – lawmakers have moved to the fallback position many predicted all along: an extension of the 2008 farm bill.

“While the Senate passed a bipartisan five-year farm bill in June that cut subsidies and reduced the deficit, the lack of action by the House Republican leadership has put us in a situation where we risk serious damage to our economy unless we pass a temporary extension,” said Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“If a new farm bill is not passed in the next few days, Agriculture Committee leaders in both chambers and both parties have developed a responsible short-term farm bill extension that not only stops milk prices from spiking, but also prevents eventual damage to our entire agriculture economy,” Stabenow continued. “It is critical that we pass a five-year farm bill that gives farmers and ranchers the certainty they need to plan for the future. If a new farm bill doesn’t pass this Congress we’ll soon hold another mark-up and just keep working until one is enacted next year.”

Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said the extension, “is not perfect -- no compromise ever is -- but it is my sincere hope that it will pass the House and Senate and be signed by the President by Jan. 1.”

Three types of extension were floated in the House. One, preferred by leaders on the agriculture committees, would extend the 2008 bill for nine months. A second bill would have extended 2008 law for only 30 days. A third bill would only have averted the reversion of dairy policy to 1949 law for 30 days.

Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee, reportedly called the 30-day patch proposals a “poor joke” and lamented the “empty promises” of GOP leaders. He also pointed to the continued uncertainty facing U.S. agriculture as the 2013 planting season draws near.

Such uncertainty in farm country is a key worry as farmers and rural bankers try to make plans for the coming months.

“We’re looking at a situation like 2009/2010 when we were in a major credit shortage,” said Chandler Goule, National Farmers Union vice president of Government Relations in late December. “If the next farm bill is written in 2013 and crop insurance has to be cut significantly and the lowering of the safety net value, it’s a guarantee that lenders will pull in some of their credit.

“Those are our risk management tools. If those are cut back then lenders will cut back on how much credit they’ll provide.

“The discussions on that have already started and we’re hearing from producers worried about operating loans for next spring.”

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