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SPOTLIGHT
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Farm bill caught up in partisanship

Published on -11/14/2013, 8:32 AM

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To say the farm bill has moved like molasses through Congress the past three years is a gross understatement. This branch of our federal government continues to be mired in the mud of partisan politics.

Congress seems hell-bent on infighting while this nation's business is left undone. Kansans and other farm-state lawmakers are urging their colleagues to look back to more bipartisan times and do something Congress hasn't done much of lately - pass a major piece of legislation.

Remember the old axiom: politics is the art of compromise?

Farm country needs a farm bill and we could have used it yesterday. Much of the fall corn, beans and milo are out of the fields and farmers are ready to look toward 2014 and next year's crops.

Kansas farmers and ranchers need the certainty of a completed farm bill in order to make business decisions for next year, says Kansas Farm Bureau President Steve Baccus, an Ottawa County farmer.

A strong, affordable crop insurance safety net will help producers develop individual risk management plans, he adds. Reauthorizing livestock disaster programs will protect Kansas ranchers from catastrophic losses such as those suffered by South Dakota ranchers after the recent blizzard.

Baccus urged Congress to fund all titles in the new farm bill to avoid abandoning important conservation, research and trade programs to the mercy of the appropriations process. He also called on lawmakers to preserve traditional rural-urban cooperation on nutrition issues.

"A farm bill without a meaningful nutrition title will make it difficult, if not impossible, for the House and Senate to reach agreement on a bill that can be signed by the president," Baccus said. "Congress must pass a unified farm bill that continues the partnership between the nutrition and farm communities and their constituents."

Seems the main challenge in arriving at a new farm bill is the differences on food stamps, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The House has passed legislation to slash approximately $40 billion annually, or about 5 percent including changes in eligibility and work requirements. The Senate wants to cut a much smaller $4 billion.

SNAP funding has more than doubled during the past five years as the nation's economy struggled. Democrats contend it is working as intended, providing food to those in need when times are tough. Republicans believe it should be focused on the neediest people.

When most Americans think of a farm bill they think of farm subsidies. Few think of all the other things that are covered in this nearly $1 trillion program.

Few Americans know that 75 percent of the farm bill is actually helping feed folks who need nutrition assistance. Let me repeat, 75 percent of this bill goes to feed hungry people.

Most of the current law's ag provisions expired in September. Direct payments would have been eliminated and our lawmakers could have taken some of that money applied it to deficit reduction as well as an affordable crop insurance program.

If we don't have a farm bill by 2014 and Congress allows dairy supports to expire, 1930s and 1940s-era farm law would kick in. Some estimates conclude the government will then pay up to four times more for dairy products. If that scenario plays out, many farmers would sell to the government instead of commercial markets, decreasing the commercial supply while raising prices for shoppers at the supermarket.

So the question remains: Can the House and Senate pass a farm bill?

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

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