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SPOTLIGHT
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Make the farm bill a top priority

Published on -9/18/2013, 9:52 AM

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Talk to anyone in farm country and next to concerns about the need for more rain, the farm bill remains at the top of the list of things Congress must do before the end of the year.

Unfortunately, the farm bill doesn't seem to be a priority in our nation's capital. At the present time Congress is mired firmly in the matter of whether we use military action in Syria.

With every passing day, the likelihood of a farm bill extension increases. The current extension of 2008 farm program authority expires Sept. 30.

The fly in the ointment has become the continued debate over whether the bill must include nutrition programs and the formation of a conference committee to work out differences between the Senate and House versions of the proposed bills.

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts told a full house at the Farm Bureau leadership breakfast during last week's State Fair the farm bill debate is a perfect storm.

"The Senate won't pass a farm bill without what they consider to be an appropriate food stamp program," he said.

Roberts promised to do what he can to protect, preserve and strengthen crop insurance and to stop using it as a bank for other programs.

Allowing the current extension to expire is not an option, he added. This would leave the 1949 farm bill to fill the void. If that happens, farmers and consumers will be in trouble because programs from conservation to research will disappear.

Policy reforms, such as a larger role for crop insurance as part of the farm safety net, more equity across crops and increased support for fruit and vegetable growers, will not be possible if the current farm bill is extended.

In addition, some commodity prices could soar because they would be tied to farm productivity from the 1940s. Milk, as an example, could double or triple at the supermarket.

"I don't want to go back down the road where farmers plant for the government rather than planting for the market," Kansas' senior senator said.

A new farm bill will provide farmers the certainty they need to plan their crops and obtain financing.

This is the No. 1 reason a new farm bill must be hammered out in Washington. Another extension will not do so.

Additionally, a new farm bill provides stability to an industry buffeted by volatile weather conditions, erratic world commodity prices and international trade scenarios that cause spikes and valleys in world food markets.

It also helps ensure this nation's domestic food supply.

Every U.S. citizen benefits from quality, affordable food.

Consumers understand deep in the pocket what it feels like to be dependent on oil from the Middle East. The farm bill ensures Americans can depend on American farmers to feed them.

Since World War II, nearly all nations help their farmers in one way or another. The United States does so with its farm bill.

"We need a bill, we'll get a bill, rest assured, with your help we'll live to fight another day," Roberts said. "We'll try to make this farm bill more market oriented as we go down the road."

John Schlageck, Hoxie, is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansan who writes for the Kansas Farm Bureau.

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