LOVELAND — A staff member from the office of Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., told the state’s producers this week that, while food stamps remain a large source of the farm bill debate, farm subsidies, too, have yet to be sorted out.
Alan Foutz made those comments during the Colorado Ag Classic’s legislative panel on Wednesday, which featured discussions with Rep. Perry Buck, R-Greeley; Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono; Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins; and Rep. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, who’s running for governor next year.
The day after those discussions, the House has passed yet another extension of farm law until the end of January as lawmakers try to finish work on a new five-year farm bill.
Foutz told the crowd of farmers, ranchers and dairymen Wednesday that lawmakers from corn- and soybean-producing states continue to battle with lawmakers from cotton- and rice-producing states over direct payments, made to some farmers whether they plant or not.
Corn and soybean farmers, for the most part, want to do away with direct payments, because since 2008, when the existing farm bill was passed, prices for corn and soybeans, along with other crops, have improved significantly, and direct payments aren’t needed anymore, they say. Some even feel that direct payments give the agriculture industry a black eye.
Corn and soybean growers would rather see the next farm bill include a strengthened crop insurance program.
However, direct payments still play a large role in the bottom lines of rice and cotton farmers, Foutz said, and many lawmakers from states where those crops are produced — mostly southern states — are trying to keep them in place.
In addition to Foutz discussing the direct-payments debate, other reports have surfaced recently regarding the inability for lawmakers to agree on the subsidies. The farm bill argument that has drawn the most attention has been over cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, which account for about 80 percent of the farm bill. Earlier this year, the Republican-controlled House passed a bill that would cut food stamps by $39 billion out of a projected $800 billion over 10 years. The Democratic-held Senate’s farm bill also would cut food stamps, but by $4.5 billion over a decade.
“I don’t want to downplay the significance of that debate,” Foutz, a former president of the Colorado Farm Bureau, said in an interview after the Colorado Ag Classic. “But when you have the ag and commodity groups debating over programs, like direct payments, that certainly slows things down even more.”
According to the Associated Press, the House passed its farm bill extension Thursday amid fears that the expiration of dairy subsidies at the end of the year will cause milk prices to rise, even though U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has assured Congress that will not happen before the end of January.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said the Senate will not pass an extension because it is unnecessary. Some senators argue an extension could reduce pressure to pass a farm bill.
This week, a spokeswoman for Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said Bennet believes the House should stay in session through next week to get a deal done, because a deal is close. Bennet sits on the Farm Bill Conference Committee.
The lack of farm bill passage is nothing new.
The existing farm bill was set to expire on Sept. 30, 2012, but has been extended since then, because lawmakers can’t agree on a new one.
The disputes and inability to pass a new farm bill have been a major source of frustration to many in the agriculture industry, who say much has changed in agriculture since the last farm bill was passed back in 2008, and the programs in the current farm bill don’t address the needs of the industry.
New programs are needed, they say.