Americans need farm aid - not a band-aid

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In a repeat of the paralysis we witnessed during the surface transportation debate, we find Congress divided on what a new farm bill should look like. The Republican Majority is refusing to even allow an open debate of the legislation, which will put millions of jobs in jeopardy, and may have far reaching repercussions on both the price of food we eat and the long term food security of our country. I must be clear to note this is not the entire Republican caucus. In fact I’ve been pleased that several of my Republicans colleagues have shared in this sentiment, and joined me on September 12th for the farm bill Now! rally which took place on the Capitol lawn. Nearly one hundred groups from around the nation representing all sectors of agriculture made the trip to Washington to make their voice heard.


It’s fair to ask: why not simply extend this legislation like we have seen with surface transportation, federal aviation authorization, and even our current funding of the federal government?

Agriculture, more than any other industry, is not an industry you can turn off and on. Prior to the food making its way to your kitchen table, there are years of preparation acquiring equipment, land, and the knowledge that makes American producers the most efficient in the world. Letting the authority of the farm bill lapse would have dire consequences by forcing farmers and ranchers to commit a new season of production, unaware of what policy, if any, will exist when it comes time to harvest. A short term extension is both irresponsible and insulting to the millions of family farms.

However, it won’t be just producers who suffer from inaction. Food banks that provide assistance to the nearly 50 million people who currently live in poverty won’t have the certainty of what, if any, assistance the federal government will be able to offer to families wishing to simply provide the bare essentials. Over 14% of households nationwide are considered food insecure, and my home state of Texas ranks 2nd. While the rates have been falling in recent months, now is not the time to leave pantries empty around the country.

The only thing counting down faster than the legislative calendar is the days until the farm bill begins expiring one program at a time. More than one hundred farm bill programs will have their authorization for appropriations expire at the end of September.This includes conservation programs such as the Wetlands Reserve Program, which works with landowners to protect over 200,000 acres of sensitive lands and habitats.

Perhaps the most important expiration will be the end of disaster relief programs created in the 2008 Farm Bill.

The United States is currently experiencing the worst drought in over fifty years. Nearly two- thirds of the entire country is facing at least moderate levels of drought, and southern and plains states such as Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Iowa are even more dire. Many of these areas are responsible for biofuel production and will directly impact energy prices for all Americans. While the provisions were not perfect, allowing the disaster assistance provisions in the 2008 farm bill to expire during this natural disaster will push many producers out of business.

There is no reason for the House to not consider a farm bill immediately. Of the one hundred top farm districts in the U.S., seventy-three are represented by Republican members. These are the individuals who will be most impacted – not urban areas.

Recently, the idea of a three month extension has been discussed by the House Majority. Not only wouldn’t this do the job American producers need us to do, it wouldn’t be doing the job we were elected to do. Kicking the work down the road to a new Congress would likely mean trashing years of work on the current proposals, while not providing any certainty for farms across the country.

Cuellar is a member of the House Agriculture Committee.