Written by Paul Penner Wednesday, 28 November 2007 01:32Farmers, November 2007 is nearly gone and current farm bill legislation is about to expire. Do you know where your new farm bill is? More importantly, do you know why debate over the farm bill is stalled in the Senate?
From a historical perspective, the farm bill usually passes the House and Senate, not to mention out of the conference committee and through the final voting process, arriving at the president’s desk for his signature before the Christmas recess.
In my opinion, the bill may not even make it to the final vote before February 2008, even if the current deadlock is resolved.
In fact, odds are good that an extension of the 2002 Farm Bill will be approved, preventing permanent legislation of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 from taking effect.
There is enough blame and finger-pointing to go around, if all the press releases by interested parties are to be believed. Don’t believe everything you hear or read, however. It takes a bit of sifting through the mud slinging and trash talk to figure out what is really going on.
As one senator from Kansas reported, the Democrat leadership says they have devoted 11 days to debate the bill and accuse the Republican minority of obstructionism. Yet, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has refused to allow introduction of new amendments to the farm bill, much less allow for a vote.
In a related article in the latest edition of the High Plains Journal, Barry Flinchbaugh, noted economist from Kansas State Research and Extension, believes we are about to witness a free-for-all debate as special interest groups try to redirect funds to other programs. However, even this may not occur if the Senate majority leader will not allow any debate.
According to the latest count, more than 400 amendments need to be introduced. Sources say this number is normal, given the importance of the farm bill in national policy. Some amendments are germane to the bill. Others are not. Normal procedures call for amendments to be introduced in groups of five, wherein any amendment can be added to the farm bill or deleted.
Having said that, several important amendments should be addressed which seek to make major changes in the current law. Of the most significant amendments, the Dorgan-Grassley amendment will severely affect Kansas farmers, reducing payments by nearly $40 million by lowering the direct payment limit to $20,000 per individual, thereby affecting at least 560 farmers in the state.
At press time, there is confusion on the wording of the amendment related to this limitation. If interpreted differently, the limit would be $40,000 per individual or per married couple. Sen. Sam Brownback and his staff have agreed to look into the wording and clarify it.
Another amendment that needs to be addressed and defeated is the Lugar-Lautenberg initiative. It is the Senate version of the Kind-Flake amendment (no pun intended), which would gut direct payments and add the funds to nutrition programs, which have already received substantial increases in funding.
Still another amendment that needs to be voted down is one introduced by Sen. Brown of Ohio to cut crop insurance programs, essentially undoing Sen. Pat Robert’s amendment, which was incorporated in the committee.
The Roberts amendment severed the link between ACR and crop insurance, saving wheat growers from expected hikes in premiums. These changes may have also saved both crop insurance and direct payments from being moved to the WTO Amber Box.
In addition, Sen. Brown plans to introduce a second amendment gutting crop insurance even further and diverting those funds elsewhere.
As the old saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” The challenge for your elected representatives in Washington, D.C., is to learn about those details in time to make effective changes to upcoming legislation, and to weed out bad legislation before it becomes law.
Not to mention, as a member of a grassroots lobbying organization representing Kansas wheat growers, I beieve it is imperative that we have the wheat growers’ opinion on these matters well in advance, before legislation is voted on.
Having been involved in Kansas Association of Wheat Growers for a relatively short period, I appreciate the people working for us within the state and national organizations as they represent the farmer’s interests. They are a dedicated, focused group of individuals.
For those whose livelihood comes from agriculture, it is imperative that you are involved in a grassroots organization that works to protect your interests, both on the state and national levels. Your opinion counts. Your voice can be heard, if you choose to be actively involved in those organizations.
Between now and March 2008 will be the most important time for everyone in agriculture to speak up and be heard. Our elected representatives do not work in a vacuum. They represent the voters of their region.
Agriculture is a major industry that needs to be well represented in Congress. My challenge to wheat growers and all producers is: make sure your voice is heard on Capitol Hill.
If you are not speaking up, they cannot hear your opinion when other voices are clamoring for their attention. These voices are doing their best to convince legislators their agenda is more important than agriculture’s.