The current Farm Bill doesn't expire until the end of the month, but some farmers are already feeling the affects of Congress' inaction.
The Milk Income Loss Contract, a program that compensates dairy farmers when milk prices decrease below a certain point, began providing reduced coverage on Sept. 1. That has some farmers worried.
Livingston County dairy farmer Rob Noble was one of hundreds of farmers from across the country who attended a rally in Washington, D.C., earlier this week to push Congress for an extension of the Farm Bill. He said in a press release that the consequences of not passing a new farm bill are serious.
U.S. Rep Bill Owens talks with the Enterprise at a recent editorial board interview.
(Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)
"Weaker safety nets and deeper cuts to important conservation programs will be the result if the House fails to act," Noble said. "After floods, droughts and challenging economic times, producing food and feeding people shouldn't be political anymore."
U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, is a member of the House Agriculture Committee, which passed its version of the Farm Bill in July. So far, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, hasn't brought it to the floor for a vote. The Senate passed its version of the legislation in June.
"Good farm policy helps promote good farm jobs, and New York farmers can't afford for Congress to sit on its hands any longer," Owens said in a prepared statement. "From low milk prices to natural disasters affecting feed and specialty crops, farmers have enough to worry about without Congress dropping the ball on the Farm Bill. We need to get this done."
Owens and his Republican challenger in this fall's election, Watertown businessman Matt Doheny, disagree on a lot of issues, but they agree that Congress needs to pass the Farm Bill. Doheny's spokesman, Jude Seymour, said in an emailed statement that farmers need certainty when it comes to federal agricultural policy.
"Matt believes the new Farm Bill isn't a perfect piece of legislation, but it is far preferable to reverting to the last permanent farm bill of 1949," he said. "That would put our farmers and our families in an untenable situation. Matt urges members of Congress to come together, do what's right for their constituents and pass this bill as soon as possible."
Green Party candidate Don Hassig, however, said he wouldn't support the legislation.
"I believe in providing farmers with some form of safety net," he told the Enterprise. "I believe in providing farm animals with a safety net also. I would not support a new Farm Bill that did not address the matter of farm animal protection. Cattle, pigs and poultry are being abused on factory farms across the United States. Factory farming must be outlawed in the 2012 Farm Bill."
The 2012 Farm Bill replaces the MILC program with a new one. Owens said an extension of current law means the current program will continue at the reduced level that began earlier this month.
"Under this lower level of coverage, New York dairy farmers will likely receive no payments under the MILC program for the remainder of the year," Owens' statement said. "Consequently, producers will be left without a safety net at a time when feed prices have skyrocketed and farm milk prices are not sufficient to cover cost of production."
Owens told the Enterprise recently that he thinks House Republicans have been reluctant to bring the bill to a vote "because they don't want to pass it with Democratic votes."
In a letter sent to members of New York's congressional delegation this week, New York Farm Bureau President Dean Norton said a simple extension of the current Farm Bill would hurt farmers.
"It threatens to take away all the improvements our farmers and the Agriculture Committee worked so hard to include in the bill," he wrote. "Reforms will be lost, improved safety nets will be delayed and uncertainty will remain for farmers attempting to recover from several poor growing years."
Norton said the 2012 Farm Bill includes provisions that make it easier for farmers to get their food to senior citizens and school-age children.
"The improvements in the 2012 Farm Bill mean that farmers will better be able to provide fresh dairy, produce, meat and other products to consumers in the state - a relationship that improves the health of our population and the economy of many of our communities," he said in a press release.
Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.