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Letters keep coming urging farm bill this year

Three coalitions of farm groups wrote congressional leaders on Tuesday urging them to finish the farm bill this year and making specific requests for action.

“Failure to pass a new five-year farm bill before the year’s end will create significant budget uncertainty for the entire agricultural sector, including the rural businesses and lenders whose livelihoods are dependent upon farmers’ and livestock producers’ economic viability,” a coalition of 235 agriculture organizations organized by the National Farmers Union said in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

The coalition urged Congress to pass a new five-year bill instead of a temporary extension, which the letter said would be a “short-sighted, inadequate solution that would leave our constituencies crippled by uncertainty.”

The letter was signed by most major farm groups except for the Republican-leaning American Farm Bureau Federation.

Farm Bureau was “letter weary,” and “felt we had already communicated our support for finishing the farm bill numerous times and in numerous ways,” a Farm
Bob Stallman

Bob Stallman
But in a post-election statement, Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman did not specifically state the group believes the farm bill should be finished this year.

“Serious work on the farm bill, the fiscal cliff and critical tax policy fixes all must start during the lame duck session of the 112th Congress,” Stallman said in his statement.

A coalition of conservation and farm groups also sent congressional leaders a letter urging action on the farm bill and full funding for conservation programs.
Ferd Hoefner

Ferd Hoefner
“At this moment, there is no Conservation Stewardship Program, no Wetlands Reserve Program, and no Conservation Reserve Program, among other at-risk farm bill conservation programs," said Ferd Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, one of the groups that signed the letter.

“Their fiscal year 2013 funding authority expired on October 1 and no new enrollments are currently possible,” Hoefner said. “Farmers typically sign up for programs in the off-season late fall and winter months.”

“The clock is ticking,” Hoefner continued. “With the elections over, Congress needs to get its job done, one way or the other, and bring all the farm conservation programs back to life before adjourning their lame duck session.”

A coalition of groups working with beginning and minority farmers wrote congressional agriculture leaders urging that the Agriculture committees put more money into programs helping those groups.

The coalition said that the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program awarded 145 projects in the past four years providing nearly $75 million to community groups and land grant colleges to grow a base of new farmers and ranchers.

It also noted that the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program, “specifically aimed at one of the exploding areas of growth in agriculture — farmers and ranchers from communities of color, first nations people and military veterans,” awarded 158 grants to groups and universities to address issues such as language barriers, cultural differences, and service disabilities.

The coalition said its members “appreciate the fact that the Senate-passed and House Committee-passed farm bills include some mandatory funding for both programs but strongly urge you to increase the funding level for each program to $100 million over five years ($20 million annually) during negotiations over the final bill.”

The letter signers included the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the National Farmers Union, the National Family Farm Coalition, the Rural Coalition and Native American, Latino and Hmong groups.