A coalition of farm groups fearing a dramatically changing budget landscape is urging the U.S. House and Senate Agriculture Committees to complete a farm bill in 2012. Some 17 farm organizations, led by the National Farmers Union, wrote House and Senate Agriculture leaders that three consecutive farm bills were finished after the previous farm laws expired.
"Historically it takes a year and a half or thereabouts to write a Farm Bill," NFU President Roger Johnson said. "You do the hearings, you have different ideas contemplated, you start marking it up, it has to go through both houses, it has to get signed by the President and we are about there."
Johnson argues waiting until 2013 would mean a further loss in baseline dollars needed to write a farm bill, since farm payments have gone down with rising crop prices, plus many current farm bill programs will expire.
"There are like 37 programs, permanent disaster program is at the top of the list, the energy programs, a number of the conservation programs are in that category," Johnson said. "There's no baseline funding beyond the end of this Farm Bill so it's not likely Congress will be able to do a simple extension."
And then Johnson says there's the debt limit crisis with endless acrimony, ultimatums and finger-pointing.
"The irony of this is that it's like the only thing you're seeing some agreement from both sides is let's cut farm legislation," Johnson said. "The constituency there isn't very large, the market prices are good, so let's just pretend that's going to be the case forever, let's cut all the safety net out of it."
Johnson says those in agriculture know well that high prices never last, and when they go they often go down hard and long, forcing billions in ad hoc disaster payments without an adequate safety net.
But lawmakers, facing a critical decision on raising the debt limit shortly, will likely demand new cuts that could put farm bill dollars at less than what some feel is needed.
"Ranking Member Peterson has actually said that he thinks it would be impossible," Johnson said. "He just doesn't think you're going to be able to bring the coalitions together that are needed in order to get a farm bill passed."
Without a farm bill, it's back to early 1900s permanent law that's unworkable with modern agriculture. Johnson argues it's time to get moving and have a farm bill written next year.