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Programs expire with 2008 farm bill; groups urge pressure on Congress

By JERRY HAGSTROM

For weeks, key officials have said there would not be any immediate impact from expiration of the 2008 farm bill because the key commodity programs are ruled by crop year rather than government fiscal year and food stamps will continue. But after the bill expired at midnight on Sunday, it is clear that programs that matter to a lot of farmers and consumers have expired.

Those programs include the Milk Income Loss Contract program for dairy farmers, key Foreign Agricultural Service foreign market development programs, agricultural research programs for organic agriculture, beginning farmers and renewable fuels, and food aid and conservation programs.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., a coalition of major farm groups, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the Organic Trade Association all called on Congress to take action on the farm bill as soon as Congress comes back to Washington on November 13, and the farm groups said they are urging their members to put pressure on Congress. See following story on Vilsack.

“It is unbelievable that we’re in this position now where the farm bill will expire and create so much uncertainty for farmers, ranchers, and small businesses,” Stabenow said in a news release.

“The Senate came together in a bipartisan way and we passed the farm bill,” Stabenow said. “The House Agriculture Committee came together in a bipartisan way to pass a farm bill. It’s absolutely unacceptable that the House Republican leadership couldn’t devote just one day to rural America and the 16 million jobs across the country that rely on agriculture.”

“We will work to have the first order of business for the House of Representatives be to consider a new farm bill,” said a coalition of farm groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, the National Milk Producers Federation, the United Fresh Produce Association and commodity groups.

“We are urging our members to seek out their House members between now and the elections and remind them of the consequences of not having a new bill in place prior to adjournment at the end of the year,” the coalition added.

Noting that many programs affecting small, organic and local farmers cannot be accessed, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said it is vital for Congress to pass a new farm bill before the end of the year or, if that can’t happen, to extend all of the 2008 farm bill.

“It’s up to all of us to hold Congress accountable and get a 2012 farm bill done before the end of the year,” NSAC said in an email to its members. “All of our victories in the draft versions of the farm bill thus far – historic commodity payment limitation reform, conservation protection for highly erodible land and sensitive wetlands, grant funding for local and regional food infrastructure, and much more – are on the line. Calls from folks like you will be crucial in November when Congress comes back to Washington.”

Noting that many organic programs had lost funding, the Organic Trade Association said today, “It’s very disappointing to see the organic food and farming sector creating jobs at four-times the national average, while Congress seems to struggle getting their basic job done. These modest programs that support this job growth have disappeared overnight. We can only hope this will be quickly resolved.”