Without a new farm bill agriculture is left in a clear limbo on such issues as crop insurance or disaster aid. Moreover, the entire ethanol industry which has invested hundreds of millions in plants, advertising and distribution systems, is suddenly marginalized. I can see an ethanol plant from the living room of my farm as I write these comments. To me it looks like it has shut down production. This year disaster assistance is especially urgent for those who have been hit by the severe drought, the worst in 60 years. A new farm bill is especially important for livestock and specialty crop producers and dairy farmers.
The farm bill has far-reaching consequences for rural communities. According to Agriculture Secretary Tom VilsackThomas J. VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture could continue to modernize water and electric utilities for millions of Americans, expand broadband access, and help rural businesses grow. And it would give us tools to continue expanding the production of advanced biofuels and biobased manufacturing, creating more good jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.”
A farm bill also indirectly affects the wind industry because most wind farms are built on farmland. The loss of wind farm tax credits has enormous consequences of how farmers plan their land use over a very, very long term.
Moreover, a new farm bill would continue to fund research on crops and production techniques that help create more robust practices to deal with climate change. These federal programs are also crucial for funding conservation programs that help protest land and especially the quality of our shrinking supply of fresh water.
Most people don’t know that the farm bill is also the crucial factor that enables the "...USDA to continue helping millions of American families – folks who are working hard, playing by the rules, but still having trouble making ends meet – to provide food for their children,” as Secretary Vilsack put it. Yes, food “stamps” are part of the farm bill. And, food stamps are strongly supported by agriculture because they have a huge demand side impact on farmers.
Why should the farm bill be passed now? Because, “A failure by Congress to enact a new bill or put in place an extension by October would force measures from 1949 and 1938 to go into effect. The USDA would be required to limit the number of acres farmers can grow and penalties would be imposed on farmers who exceed these acreage limits, among other changes,” as Doering writes.
There is now a completely polarized politics and a “real choice” between “big government” Democrats, corporate “farm welfare” opponents, and supporters of the stabilizing influence of a national agriculture policy. The consequences of no new farm bill are deep and dangerous for one of the largest economic sectors and the engine that drives the bulk of US exports. This is the fourth year of the best four years of agricultural exports in US history.
This is a year when helping other Americans is under attack. Mitt Romney said that “47 percent,” of American see themselves as “victims” and “dependents” of the federal government, “those people”, in Romney’s words, include families receiving food assistance, rural communities benefitting from infrastructure investments, and farmers who depend on a stable national ag policy. That makes this years struggle to pass a farm bill one of the most political in the almost fifty years I’ve been analyzing national politics.
Schmidt is a political science professor at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.