The Edmond Sun

January 3, 2013

Farm bill extension included in fiscal cliff deal

Chris Day
CNHI News Service

STILLWATER — It was a good news, bad news day for Oklahoma’s agricultural producers.

The state’s farmers and ranchers found a nine-month measure of certainty in Congress’ resolution to the “fiscal cliff” crisis. The cliff deal included a one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill. The bill expired Sept. 30, 2012, and the deal essentially re-authorizes the farm bill until Sept. 30.

The extension means negotiations will begin anew on a five-year farm bill. The plans approved by the House Agriculture Committee and full Senate may be moot. Lawmakers may find it harder to pass a farm bill in 2013 as Congress starts searching for ways to cut costs on March 1.

The agriculture committees in Congress can continue to work on a five-year comprehensive farm bill, said U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla.. Lucas is chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture.

Lucas was one of 85 Republicans to join 173 Democrats to pass the “American Taxpayer Relief Act” on Tuesday.

“I am pleased the House passed H.R. 8, The American Taxpayer Relief Act on Tuesday,” Lucas said. “... Specifically, this bill locks in place current tax rates for middle class families, provides a permanent patch for the alternative minimum tax and holds down the death tax for farmers and ranchers.”

The extension keeps many farm programs — including direct payment and crop insurance — intact, said Oklahoma State University assistant professor Jody Campiche. Her specialty is agricultural policy.

It also prevents dairy subsidies from reverting to 1949 levels, which could have caused milk prices to double to approximately $7 a gallon.

The package doesn’t provide money for agricultural disaster relief programs that have expired, Campiche said. Disaster relief is one of approximately three dozen without funding.

Livestock support programs expired Sept. 30, 2011. A provision in the package would restore those programs for 2012 and 2013 if Congress appropriates money to fund them.

“There’s a good chance they will get funded,” she said.

Congress will start looking for spending cuts March 1. Appropriations for livestock support programs as well as funding for a new five-year farm bill will be hard to come by, Campiche said.

“In general theory, it would have been better if the five-year farm bill had been passed by the current Congress,” she said.

Some of the provisions of the 2012 Farm Bill, passed by the Senate and House agriculture committee, but never brought to the full House for a vote, might be incorporated into the replacement bill.

Farm bills are usually passed every five years. They set policy and fund U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, including food stamps and crop subsidies.

An extension to a farm bill is rare, according to the Congressional Research Service’s Expiration and Possible Extension of the 2008 Farm Bill report, which was issued on Nov. 16.

Since 1973, only the 2002 farm bill needed an extension, according to the report.

“It’s not unusual at all for a farm bill to expire,” Campiche said, adding it is rare for one to be left for a new Congress.

Congress is expected to look deeply into food and nutrition programs to cut spending. Its stance on strictly agricultural programs is unknown.

So is a timetable for passing a new farm bill, Campiche said.

“It could be early in the year or it could be September,” she said.