Status of ’13 Farm Bill? Depends on who you ask

Washington — While conservation groups’ brightest and most optimistic hoped earlier this week that U.S. House members might vote on the nutrition title of the federal farm bill earlier this week (that portion, food stamps, earlier was stripped from a full version of a farm bill) some members of Congress, including Minnesota Democrat Collin Peterson, described prospects as slim for a farm bill yet this year.

Eric Lindstrom, government affairs representative for Ducks Unlimited in Bismarck, N.D., said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had said he’d like to select conferees following a full House vote on the nutrition title bill that was expected Sept. 19.

Were that bill to pass – which most conservation officials said was questionable – there would be a full complement of titles in a farm bill to match the Senate’s bill, passed earlier this year. That said, it’s likely budget cuts and other language would still be far apart. For example, Lindstrom said the Senate bill contains $4 billion in cuts to food stamps (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), while the House bill calls for $40 billion in cuts.

“It makes it harder to negotiate a bill the farther they are apart,” Lindstrom said.

Earlier this week, as reported by the Marshall Independent, Peterson told Minnesota constituents during a stop-over in Montevideo that he doubted a farm will would be passed by Congress before the end of the calendar year. (The current bill expires Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year.)

In the story, Peterson, the ranking member of the House Ag Committee, said a number of right-wing groups stood in the way of farm bill progress.

“These screwballs we’ve got in office now, elected the last two times, they could care less about farmers,” Peterson said in the Independent story. “They want to get rid of farm programs and cut the budget. It sounds good to have a free market, but watch out if we ever get there.”

Still, optimists like Bill Wenzel, agriculture program director for the Izaak Walton League of America, said if the matter could reach a conference committee, there still could be a bill before the end of 2013 – which would require a continuing resolution to keep some program afloat for another three months.

Still, he said, the longer the nation goes without a farm bill – the current bill is a one-year extension from the expiration date – the more conservation program are hurt.

For example: Wenzel said there are a number of applications pending for Grassland Reserve Program enrollment. But without security in knowing the program will continue into the future, those applications are, in essence, on hold.

“In South Dakota alone, there are about 900 applications that can’t be processed,” Wenzel said.

How this farm bill has played out has exasperated conservationists and ag officials alike.

“I’ve been working on farm bills since 1985 (when the modern farm bill era began), and I’ve never seen a process like this one,” Wenzel said.

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