Farm Bill future in doubt after U.S. House rejection

Washington — In a surprise move that slaps down dozens of groups of all sorts who have been drafting language for the next Farm Bill for years, including agreeing on critical soil conservation measures, the U.S. House of Representatives rejected the proposed 2013 Farm Bill by a bipartisan vote of 234-195.

On June 10, the U.S. Senate passed a conservation-friendly version, with more modest cuts to the costliest portion of the bill, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program), which is responsible for approximately 79 percent of the law’s price tag.

Disagreement over the size of the much larger House “Food Stamp” cuts, which were five times greater than the Senate version of the bill, led many of the urban representatives to automatically vote down the whole bill.

Others felt that subsidies to agribusiness operators were not trimmed enough.

Conservation programs were to be given modest cuts and 23 existing programs were to be trimmed to 13 in the House version of the bill. In light of current grain prices, interest by farmers to enroll in soil conservation measures has waned, so these cuts are in line with demand for them (although higher, competitive rental rates would generate higher interest in them).

Some representatives are calling for the separation of the Food Stamp Program and the agricultural provisions of the bill, so that specific reforms to each program can be ironed out.  

Even prior to the vote, a major setback for sportsmen in the House version was the withdrawal of the Crop Insurance Accountability Act amendment, which would have linked eligibility of farmers to receive government-backed crop insurance with avoiding farming in environmentally sensitive areas.

This requirement was pushed heavily by conservation groups such as the Audubon Society, Ducks Unlimited, and Pheasants Forever, and even supported by the American Farm Bureau as “rational.”

For sportsmen, the take-home message is that in the absence of a re-vote (if changes are made and the bill is re-introduced), the 2008 Farm Bill would continue to be followed.  Upland game birds and waterfowl populations will  likely continue to drop.

The 2008 version in use now has allowed massive destruction to occur during the current “corn boom” to wetlands, native grasslands, and expired conservation easements, especially in the prairie pothole region of the Upper Midwest, North America’s “Duck Factory.”

Further southwest, where a three-year drought still exists, massive dust storms have recently begun to occur as shelterbelts are removed, overgrazing is allowed in stressed pastures, and soil is being tilled in vulnerable areas too dry to support their germination or survival.  

Time with tell if the U.S. House will try again, as many lawmakers were stinging by the unexpected defeat of the bill. Some think that they will move on to the next issue, which many expect to be a long debate over immigration reform. 

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