The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


Lucas says one year extension would be ‘orderly;’ Peterson, groups oppose extension


House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., signaled over the weekend that he favors extending most of the 2008 farm bill for one year along with disaster aid in the package that the House will consider this week, while still writing a new farm bill that would apparently begin a year later than expected.

The 2008 farm bill expires on September 30, but some provisions are tied to crop years rather than that cut-off date.

“The magnitude of the changes that will ultimately be the next 2012 farm bill — doing away with the direct payments, a bigger focus on price revenue and a bigger focus on this revenue protection — the changes are of such a magnitude the orderly way to implement a new farm bill would be to pass a one-year extension,” Lucas said in an interview Saturday on the Oklahoma Farm Report on the Radio Oklahoma Network.

“By the time we pass a farm bill, by the time USDA writes the rules and regulations to implement a farm bill, by the time the [Farm Service Agency] goes out and develops the software, trains the FSA employees, they have a chance to explain it and the producers make a decision, that’s months from now,” Lucas said.

“One more year of this farm bill, to provide for an orderly transition to the next farm bill, would be the reasonable way to do this. Now, unfortunately, things at the nation’s capital aren’t always done in the most reasonable way, in spite of my best efforts. But a one-year extension would allow us to have an orderly transition to the next farm bill.”

Lucas also said he would “anticipate a closed rule” on the extension and disaster aid bill.

“I would anticipate a limited amount of debate, because the only change we make is to move the existing ’08 farm bill one year farther down the road, and slight adjustments in funding levels to address both the fifth year and what would be the sixth year of this farm bill’s livestock feed assistance,” he said. “That’s minimal changes.”

Lucas said he believes the House “can debate this up, we can debate it down, and we can hopefully pass it out on, I think, Wednesday, probably.”

Lucas also said he would favor bringing up the bill that the House Agriculture Committee passed and using that as the vehicle for conference with the House on a longer-term farm bill.

Reacting to the idea of using the House extension as the basis for a conference with the Senate-passed bill, “I’m a regular-order kind of guy,” Lucas said.

“Just as we used regular order to achieve a consensus in the Ag Committee, and we passed a solid, five-year farm bill with options, so all producers could participate, by a 35 to 11 vote, I still want to go to the floor. I still want to go through regular order. I still want to build a consensus, take that vehicle to conference, and put our final work together.”

“Whatever route is available to me to put a five-year farm bill on the books, I’m going to attempt to do,” he added, “because the drought that we suffered through in the Southwest last year, the most horrendous drought in my living memory, which, by the way, has not gone away completely yet in the Southwest, is now plaguing our friends from the Central West all the way through the Midwest.”

The extension would make only a slight reduction in the out years in the direct payments program and make no changes to the food stamp program, even though House conservatives have repeatedly said they want to make a big cut in that program.

Meat groups have called for a reduction in the federal ethanol mandate, but Lucas also noted any action on that issue comes under the jurisdiction of the House Energy Committee.

A farm lobbyist with close ties to Lucas and other House Republicans told The Hagstrom Report last week that Congress may not want to take away the direct payments from farmers in a drought year and that it would take a long time for the Agriculture Department to implement the bill.

Extending the 2008 farm bill with no immediate changes to direct payments or food stamps could be popular with both farmers and anti-hunger groups. Food Research and Action Center President Jim Weill said last week that he favored a one-year extension without food stamp cuts over a five-year bill with cuts, but he has not commented on the proposed bill.

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who opposes the extension without a guarantee of farm bill action later this year, has worked to discourage urban members from supporting the extension.

The lack of reform in the extension and the cuts it makes to conservation programs and a shift of the funding authority for some conservation, research, specialty crop and rural development programs from mandatory to discretionary funding also would not be popular with some groups.

Most farm groups have not yet made statements on the extension and disaster aid bill, but the National Corn Growers Association said Friday it is opposed and the National Association of Conservation Districts said over the weekend that cutting conservation programs is shortsighted.

But the most critical has been the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, which represents small, environmentally-oriented farmers.

Lucas maintained that the extension “would make some very small cuts in the direct payment program, it would take some cuts that the appropriators have done annually through the rest of this farm bill to achieve savings so that the livestock disaster provisions, which in the ’08 farm bill weren’t funded in the fifth year, this year would be funded and also funded for next year.”

But NSAC maintains that the changes in the extension are not so small.

“What is being offered is a political ploy aimed at trying to pass a highly controversial bill with no debate on the way out of town for a month long summer recess and then cynically blaming the other body and the other party for not following suit,” NSAC said.

“This would rank as just more political gamesmanship were it not for the real drought and real lives and livelihoods they are playing with, and were it not for the fact that if this bill passes, the 2012 farm bill dies,” the NSAC said.

“For a farm bill process which has been relatively speaking marked by bicameral and bipartisan cooperation, this latest move is revolting, and as a result, we hope the rank and file of both parties will therefore revolt,” the group said.

Prospects for the extension and disaster aid package are unclear at this point. Conservatives would seem unlikely to support an extension of the current farm bill with no cuts to direct payments and food stamps, but they may also hold out hopes that farm bill cuts would be bigger if Mitt Romney is elected president.

Some farm and anti-hunger groups may also prefer another year of the 2008 farm bill with no cuts to their programs, but fear bigger cuts to those programs in an end- of-year farm bill that becomes part of legislation to avoid sequestration cuts or in a bill to be written in 2013.

Below is the NSAC’s chart of the measure’s impact on various programs.

What Proposed One-Year Extension Bill Cuts and Terminates