On July 3 Iowa Corn Growers Association representatives gathered in front of the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines for the Iowa Governor's annual sweet corn feed. It's a Fourth of July celebration and an event to mark the beginning of Iowa's sweet corn harvest—which is running a little late this year due to a cooler and wetter than normal spring and delayed planting. The sweet corn served July 3 was rumored to be imported from Missouri.
Anyone who shows up at this event gets to eat as ears are handed out to the public. In the crowd on July 3 were Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor. The Iowa Corn Grower leaders expressed concerns about the lack of progress in Washington D.C. on a new farm bill. Branstad, Northey and Vilsack weighed in on the need for the U.S. House to act as soon as possible and pass a new farm bill. Then the House version and Senate version of the bills would go to a Senate-House conference committee where differences would be worked out. The resulting bill would be sent to President Obama to sign it into law.
The Senate has already passed a new farm bill, the House hasn't. The Senate's version is a $500 billion, five year farm bill. The House version was defeated 234-195 on June 20, largely because of proposed changes to the food stamp program used by 48 million Americans. Some Republicans said the estimated $2 billion in proposed annual cuts to the food stamp program in the House version of the bill were not enough, while Democrats said the cuts were too steep. The Senate, passing its bill earlier in June, reduced the food stamp program by $400 million each year in its five-year farm bill.
House farm bill still in limbo as lawmakers weigh several options
Republican leaders in the House are gauging support for possibly splitting the farm bill in two—the agriculture components in one bill and the nutrition section in another bill. The nutrition section includes the food stamp program. If the House chooses not to split the bill, the lawmakers could make changes to the House bill that failed or they could take up the Senate's bill and vote on it.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
Some analysts believe the most likely outcome will be a one year extension of the current law, despite steadfast opposition from top leaders in the Senate. That's what happened last summer. Congress couldn't agree on a new 5-year farm bill so they extended the 2008 farm bill one more year. The current farm bill (the one-year extension of the 2008 bill) expires September 30. Time is running out to pass a new farm bill and get it in place before the current farm law expires.
More than frustrated, Vilsack is angry about farm bill delay
Interviewed at the July 3 Iowa sweet corn event in Des Moines, U.S. ag secretary Tom Vilsack says "More than frustrated, I'm angry about the lack of progress in the U.S. House and the House not getting a farm bill passed. Splitting the farm bill in two would be a big mistake. You risk losing a lot of the farm programs or severely reducing funding for them. The food and nutrition programs would survive but the ag programs wouldn't have widespread support if that portion is made into a stand-alone bill. Splitting the farm bill would be a mistake. It would put farm programs in serious risk and would be very poor policy."
Extending the current farm bill for one more year would also be a problem, says Vilsack. A number of key provisions in the current farm bill have already expired or have no funding. Livestock disaster assistance programs no longer exist, for example. "The Senate has passed a bi-partisan farm bill twice; now the House needs to find a workable solution and provide rural America with the bill it deserves."~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
Vilsack adds, "On July 2 a total of 530 organizations, including all major farm organizations, all major conservation groups, all renewable energy groups and many other organizations sent a letter to U.S. House leaders, urging them to pass the new farm bill as a five-year bill containing comprehensive farm, food and jobs provisions."
Will there be movement? What can be done to nudge things along and get Congress to pass a new farm bill?
"There has to be movement," says Vilsack. "Our farmers and ranchers need certainty so they can plan ahead. Livestock producers need a disaster assistance program in the event they need help. Dairy producers need better predictability in the marketplace. Research universities need additional support to help leverage scarce research dollars. Our renewable energy industry in the U.S. needs support that the farm bill offers."
Vilsack adds, "What's happened in the House is unfortunate. It's the first time in history that the U.S. House has voted down a farm bill. I refer to it as a food, farm and jobs bill because it's all tied together. Yesterday those 530 organizations sent that letter to U.S. House leaders encouraging two things: 1) Get a farm bill passed and remove the onerous amendments that many people didn't like and get the bill back to where the House can work out differences with the Senate; 2) Do not split the farm programs from the nutrition programs. We need one bill, not two. If you split the bill it'll be the death knell of farm programs."
Many organizations signed letter sent to U.S. House leaders, urging passage of new 5-year farm legislation
These are 530 organizations, from American Farm Bureau to conservation to renewable energy groups, and other associations representing a wide array of rural interests. "Congress really needs to get a new farm bill passed," states Vilsack. "This, along with immigration reform, for agriculture are two of the most important considerations this year in Congress."
Vilsack says the U.S. needs immigration reform "because we don't have enough hands to get the work done in the U.S. without immigrant labor. We need labor-intensive crops such as vegetables and fruits that are being grown on a large scale commercially, to be picked and harvested on time. Some of these large commercial farms are trying to make a decision whether or not they are going to plant fruits and vegetables in the U.S. anymore. We already have some migration of production to other countries."
"This is a serious time for agriculture, a serious time for rural America," emphasizes Vilsack.
Farmers need to know what programs they can count on for a financial safety net, to help plan agricultural production
Iowa Governor Branstad stood beside Vilsack at the Iowa Statehouse in Des Moines on July 3. "Farm policy is important to all of Iowa," said Branstad. "We are very appreciative of the fact that we've had good crop prices for the last couple of years. But 2013 has been a very difficult year because of excessive rain, and we had a drought in 2012. Even so, farmers found a way to get the crop in the ground this year. Now Congress needs to come together and pass a farm bill to give farmers some predictability and assurance that they do have a financial safety net in case help is needed."~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
Crop insurance has been extremely important recently, notes Branstad, with the drought last year and with flooding this year. But there are many aspects to a farm bill that need to be enacted by Congress. "It's a very charged-up and partisan environment in Washington, but we've proved here in Iowa we can work together and get things done legislatively, for the betterment of everyone in our state. Congress needs to make the effort to do that too, on a bi-partisan basis and get it done in a timely way before September 30, when the current farm bill extension expires."
Many other economic considerations are at stake, as programs are needed and would be provided by a new farm bill
Vilsack adds, "Governor Branstad is absolutely right. There are a lot of issues involved in a farm bill and some folks don't realize or give those issues attention. For example, if you're an Iowa State University grad, you should be interested in making sure ag research continues. This farm bill would allow us to leverage public funding and resources and expand research. If you're a livestock producer you need disaster assistance programs. If you're a dairy producer you need a market that's more stable and secure than the one we have today. We've lost nearly 50% of our dairy producers in the U.S. the last 10 years."
If you are interested in soil and water conservation there are a lot of issues and discussion about water quality in Iowa, as there needs to be, says Vilsack. "You want to streamline federal conservation programs, to make them easier to access and use. The new farm bill would allow you to do so. And if you're interested in having a new, bio-based economy for the future and getting the U.S. away from over-reliance on petroleum and oil, which we are doing here in Iowa, you obviously want the programs in the farm bill that will continue supporting the renewable energy effort."
All of this is at stake, says Vilsack. "Another issue is economic development, and jobs for U.S. and Iowa workers. Some companies in Iowa and the U.S. may not think they have a stake in this farm bill. But they do indeed have a significant stake. For example, Brazil is now in a position, because of a cotton trade dispute, to assess $820 million in tariffs on a wide range of U.S. products, including ag products but also things manufactured in the U.S. and Iowa. For example, John Deere facilities in Iowa stand to lose jobs here if Brazil decides to slap significant import tariffs on U.S.-made tractors, cotton pickers and other farm equipment. That would put Iowa and the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage, and cost us jobs. Too much is at stake here. We need to get a farm bill passed in Washington, D.C."