While reports have emerged that the House will finally name farm bill conferees, the government shutdown has begun to hamstring rural commerce.

“My understanding is that (farm bill) conferees have been selected,” said Chandler Goule, National Farmers Union government affairs, on Thursday (October 10) morning. “But no one is entirely sure of the names on the list. I’m hearing it will be senior members of the House Agriculture Committee – Democrats and Republicans – along with an additional two Republicans. It will be interesting to see who those two Republicans are.

“I was hoping the conferee list would be released today. The later it gets, though, the more everyone seems to think that won’t happen. The House will be working at least through Saturday – so the list may come out before they leave for the Columbus Day holiday.”

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Earlier Thursday, NFU President Roger Johnson sent a letter to Congress urging quick action. Johnson pointed to the recent blizzard that killed tens of thousands of cattle in the Northwest.

“Perhaps most disappointing about all of these manufactured crises, exacerbated by the lapsed farm bill, is that solutions are close at hand but Congress chooses not to execute them,” wrote Johnson.

“The USDA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are prepared to handle events like these, but the government shutdown, along with the expired farm bill, leaves ranchers without the urgent help they need. Both the House and Senate versions of the pending farm bill include a retroactive livestock indemnity provision, which would provide much-needed assistance to ranchers but cannot be accessed because of the legislative stalemate.”

Meanwhile, Goule says currently everyone on Capitol Hill “is focused on what the debt package being floated in the House will look like. On the Senate side, there is a bit of conversation about agriculture being part of the larger budget negotiation.”

Among Goule’s other comments:

On the consequences of the government shutdown…

“We keep telling lawmakers about what this shutdown and lack of a farm bill is doing to farmers. They actually allowed the farm bill to expire!

“Now, farmers don’t have livestock indemnity payments. FSA offices are closed. Conservation payments go out at the beginning of the fiscal year so that means no one has received CRP payments, CSP payments, EQIP payments. FSA loans aren’t being honored, right now. That’s because an FSA officer must co-sign the check and there are none on the job.

“Because of the expired farm bill and a government that is closed down, we have crippled commerce in rural America.

“People really need to call their lawmakers and tell them to pass a five-year farm bill.”

Timetable for a farm bill conference?

“I was hoping it would happen in the next couple of days. But now, as they continue with the funding issues with the government, it will likely be delayed to late (the week of October 14).

“Once the House conferees are named, it starts a 20-day legislative clock to move to conference.”

SNAP, blizzard

How might they resolve the SNAP funding disparity between the House and Senate farm bills?

“We’ve been whipping a lot of the House members who voted for those extremely draconian SNAP cuts of $39 billion. We’ve been pointing out, ‘you do realize the conference report is not going to come back even close to that number?’

“I think most of the members are aware of that. What will come into play when that smaller number comes back from conference is: will they go ahead and vote for it since SNAP will be reauthorized in three years instead of five? That’s the leverage that will be used in order to get more House members to vote for it.

“Of course, that would just cause another major political battle in three years when the largest portion of the farm bill will be up for reauthorization.

“I am confident we’ll get a new farm bill this year, though. I’m just not sure if it’ll be part of this major debt negotiation or afterwards. I haven’t given up hope yet.”

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What about the way the House went about getting their farm bill passed by splitting the farm and nutrition programs? (Minnesota Rep.) Collin Peterson (House Agriculture Committee ranking member) keeps saying that farmers should understand that House action is a forecast of future attempts by Republicans to do away with farm programs. Is that a valid concern for farmers?

“Most definitely. I couldn’t agree with (Peterson) more.

“Splitting that coalition is a clear sign of the objectives of the Tea Party and the Heritage Foundation. Their long-term goal has been to completely get rid of all farm safety nets and dismantle our nutrition and consumer safety nets.

“They succeeded in driving a wedge between this historic coalition that has passed farm bills for decades. Those who produce food should be extremely concerned about what this means down the road.”

On the blizzard in the Northwest…

“There’s definitely a lot of panic. (The South Dakota NFU president) says the level of stress in the state is off the charts. The number of cattle lost is stunning. And these were fat cattle, ready to go to market.

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“He’s concerned that the stress level is so high – especially in South Dakota, parts of North Dakota, and a bit of western Nebraska and Wyoming -- that farm crisis managers need to be brought in. There are a bunch of ranchers that could go out of business. There isn’t a livestock indemnity program available. For those who still have livestock, there’s not a livestock forage program available.

“Consider that there’s not even anyone in government to help them properly take in and calculate the number of dead animals. Everything is shut down.”