By Matt Reese
It was a harried Saturday morning. Our young son had an 8:45 soccer game and we were scrambling to get him equipped with the proper uniform, socks, shin guards, water bottle and all of the other necessities required for a 30-minute epic battle of three-year-old athletes upon the field of play. I was in charge of shoes and shin guards and we were running late.
With proper planning, I would have found all of the necessary items the night before so they were ready to go in the morning. I didn’t do that, however. It was a wild scramble and finally we had everything loaded and ready to go. The kids were in their car seats and we were headed down the road before I realized I left my son’s left soccer shoe at home. My wife was not impressed.
With busy schedules of story interviews, events, speaking engagements and meetings this time of year, my wife and I are always planning and scheduling ahead for our various road trips. In most cases, we take our young children with us. My wife is very good about anticipating the needs of the children for any type of outing. She will pack some snacks, extra clothes, toys, and books for entertainment. We usually have a pretty good idea about how long it will take to get everything loaded up and when we need to leave to get to wherever we are going. But, almost inevitably, everything will be loaded and ready to go, and there will be a need for a trip to the restroom, a forgotten item or a left behind shoe required for a soccer showdown.
Life these days involves quite a bit of planning, and agriculture is no exception. But the planning efforts of those in agriculture have recently been hampered by the failure of Congress to pass a new farm bill. The 2008 Farm Bill expired on Sunday, Sept. 30, and the 2012 Farm Bill needed to replace it remained bottled up in Congress, specifically in the House. The Senate and the House Agriculture Committees were both able to pass their versions of the new farm bill, but the full House was unable to do so.
While this farm bill expiration has little or no effect on some important programs for now, it has terminated some programs.
Among those is the the dairy safety net —the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program. That program compensated dairy producers when domestic milk prices fall below a specified level. Without a new farm bill, dairy farmers are left with uncertainty and inadequate assistance (as opposed to just the inadequate assistance they had before). While milk prices are high enough that the price support program doesn’t kick in, unfortunately, there is no other safety net to help battle the current challenge of the highest feed costs on record.
Additional programs affected by expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill include: Foreign Market Development Program, Conservation Reserve Program, Disaster funding, funding to augment the competitiveness of specialty crops through programs that enhance trade, promote cutting-edge research, and implement on- the-ground projects to protect crops from disease and invasive species. Funding for these programs ended when the Farm Bill expired.
Other programs that expired with the 2008 Farm Bill include: Dairy Forward Pricing Program, Dairy Promotion and Research Program, Market Access Program, Emerging Markets Program, Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, Specialty Crop Research Initiative, Beginning Farmer and Ranchers Development Program, Healthy Forest Reserve, Biomass Research and Development Initiative, Biomass Crop Assistance Program, Farmers’ Market Promotion Program, Specialty Crop Block Grants, National Clean Plant Network, National Organic Certification Cost-Share, and Outreach and Technical Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers or Ranchers.
Numerous other programs, including energy, agricultural research, rural development and funding for new and beginning farmers could be added to this list of affected programs as time goes on, particularly after Jan. 1, 2013.
Congress will return in mid-November for a lame-duck session prior to final adjournment in December. Even if the program-specific impacts from the expired 2008 Farm Bill do not affect your particular farm, all of agriculture will have a bit more challenge in planning for 2013 and beyond. The farm policy limbo farmers now find themselves does not facilitate making long terms plans, including lining up the critical financial assistance needed from lending institutions requiring detailed business plans.
The lack of certainty regarding the future is the real problem with the farm bill failure, and the planning efforts for agriculture are already suffering. And, we all know that planning is important, because visiting a lender with a business plan that does not include farm policies that will be in place is kind of like showing up for a soccer game with only one shoe.