No Farm Bill? No Problem, Unless You're a Dairy Farmer

Farm bill stall won't hurt many until the new crop year.

By + More

The bad news is, when the farm bill expires in two weeks, members of Congress won't be in Washington toiling away on a deal, but will be back home on the campaign trail. The good news is, despite desperate calls from farmers and ranchers around the country, few in agriculture will immediately feel the consequences of Congress's gridlock.

[Romney is Half Right About People Who Don't Pay Taxes.]

"They sky does not fall," says Mary Kate Thatcher, the director of congressional affairs for the American Farm Bureau. "The food stamp program, crop insurance program, and most conservation programs are all extended. When it really starts hitting you is next spring."

The farm bill is typically renewed every five years and directs the nation's agriculture policy as well as allocates 60 percent of its funding to food assistance programs.

The Congressional Research Service confirms that if the 2008 farm bill expires at the end of the month, many programs including the farm commodity programs, food stamps, and some research and conservation programs will continue without a new bill. Nearly 40 programs that were authorized under the 2008 legislation will not continue beyond the fiscal year, including the wetlands and grassland reserve programs, some nutrition assistance programs, a few energy programs, and several rural development provisions.

Another program, the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program, a support provision where the government buys up excess dairy commodities, due to changes in funding on September 1 won't be triggered despite rising feed costs for dairy farmers, leaving many  vulnerable to volatile markets in the wake of the summer drought. [Photos: The 2012 Presidential Campaign Trail]

Both the Senate and House bills revamped dairy supports for farmers drastically, but while they hold out hope for a comprehensive five-year farm bill, dairy farmers remain unshielded.

Vermont Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy is pushing for a short MILC extension, but it is also without a spot on the congressional calendar.

"Today there is effectively no protection," says John Wilson, senior vice president of Dairy Farmers of America. "Some farmers will get put out of business, which means a shortage of milk, and that means more expensive dairy products for consumers at the grocery store."

Of course, all farmers planning for next year's crop season would prefer to have certainty, and many are apprehensive that with a long list of to-do's, Congress won't get to the farm bill even after the election when it returns to Washington to tackle automatic budget cuts and tax extenders.

"There are so many things in the lame duck session, we have more than 100 tax provisions that expire and a fiscal cliff to tackle," Thatcher says. "There are so many unknowns that we would have preferred to have gotten out of the way now."

The Democratically-led Senate acted swiftly on its version of the bill, passing it with bipartisan support back in June. The House Agriculture Committee also passed a version of the bill out of committee, but leadership has failed to bring it to the floor for a vote because of deep divisions within the Republican Party over how much money should be directed toward food assistance programs and crop insurance programs. [Conservative Super PACs Trying to Tilt Scales in Competitive House Races.]

The House Republicans passed a disaster relief program to help ranchers suffering from the summer's drought in August, but the Senate has yet to take it up.

Congress has tossed around a three-month extension of the 2008 farm bill, but nothing is on the congressional calendar with two days to go.

House Agriculture Chairman Republican Rep. Frank Lucas admitted to Politico that he viewed the temporary extension as a way to attract more attention to legislation that seems to have fallen off the congressional radar.

"I'm to the point where anything that helps raise the profile to help force the process to be completed in lame duck, then I'm part of," Lucas told Politico.