Farm bill extension runs out, food prices may rise

Farm Forum

As Congress wrangled unsuccessfully in averting a partial government shutdown on Sept. 30, the farm bill expired.

Doug Sombke, president of the South Dakota Farmers Union, said the farm bill was operating under a one-year extension, but that legislation expired Sept. 30. While the House and Senate have drafted separate pieces of legislation, Sombke said the two sides have yet to come together on a new multi-year package.

The farm bill authorizes several agriculture-related programs, as well as nutrition programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, 60s Plus dining, Meals on Wheels and backpack programs, Sombke said. The renewable fuels standard is also part of the legislation.

Expiration of the current farm bill means the operation of farm programs reverts back to the permanent law established in 1938 and 1949.

“With no extension, the permanent law doesn’t kick in until the end of the year,” Sombke said.

This provision was put in place to force Congress to address new farm legislation every few years, he said.

Sombke said the Senate is proposing a $4 billion cut to nutrition programs, while the House has proposed a $39 billion cut. The House version of the farm bill also proposes a discontinuation of permanent law.

“That would be detrimental,” Sombke said, adding that the Senate version proposes continuation of permanent law.

Sombke said he’s seen varied temperaments in Congress over the years, but right now is not fun.

“It definitely shows a lack of respect for each other and a lack of leadership,” he said. “Our country’s forefathers would be rolling in their graves right now.”

From his perspective, Sombke said, a final farm bill should include a combined nutrition and farm bill. He said the final version of the bill will most likely include some cuts to the nutrition program in the range of $10 billion to $12 billion over the next 10 years.

“I don’t think we’ll see $39 (billion) or $4 (billion),” he said.

Sombke said the permanent law provision is definitely needed.

“Without that law, we would lose any connection and go to a free-market situation,” he said.

If the expiration of the farm bill provisions continue, Sombke said consumers will eventually see increases in prices for various commodities.

“We will see milk, cheese and butter prices go up,” he said.

This increase is set to take place Jan. 1.

Not all commodities produced today are included in the permanent law provisions. Sombke said sugar and soybeans are two of those commodities.

“One of the biggest concerns for the sugar industry is they would be removed, which would greatly increase the price,” he said.

Sombke said the longer a farm bill isn’t in effect, the more it affects the baseline for farmers.

“By not having a farm bill, farmers are losing a baseline,” he said. “For every year we don’t have a farm bill, it’s costing American government more.”

With the partial government shutdown taking effect, Sombke said emergency-related services will continue, but FSA offices are closed, which means farmers will be unable to obtain a loan for grains. Payments for various farm programs, such as the Conservation Reserve Program and Wetland Reserve Program, will not be paid.

Sombke said one activity that will continue is farming.

“We know what the farmers want, and we know how disgusted they are,” he said. “They keep going in the hopes that someone else in the government’s leadership would do the right thing. Instead, they’re listening to special interest groups who want their way on whatever topic it is.”

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