Washington, DC (Gannett News Service) The expiration of the farm bill Tuesday has been met without much fanfare by many in rural America as farmers and ranchers grow immune to the inability of Congress to craft a new law.
"I think farmers have kind of gotten tired of talking about it," said Craig Hill, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. "It just goes on and on and on, every month another disappointment and lack of progress. We don't hear as much from producers as we were earlier because I think it's just such a persistent frustration."
To be sure, dozens of programs administered by the Agriculture Department will end without a new bill or an extension. Several food aid, rural development and agricultural programs are among those being hit. USDA would be forced to scale back its efforts to promote American agriculture abroad and the department would not be able to enroll acreage in the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays landowners an annual rent to idle environmentally fragile land for at least a decade.
Still, while the farm bill expires Tuesday, it's unlikely to spur Congress to complete a new bill. That's because popular programs such as food stamps, subsidy payments and crop insurance all remain in place.
The more pressing deadline comes on Jan. 1 when a 1949 farm law requires that subsidy prices begin to increase, starting with dairy payments. That could double the prices consumers pay for milk to $7 a gallon. Wheat and other commodities would be affected later in 2014.
Gregg Ode, who raises cattle near Brandon, S.D., said farmers and ranchers would feel the effects of higher subsidy prices. Not only would consumers be unwilling to pay more for expensive milk, Ode said, but producers would see escalating costs at their operations resulting from the chaos effecting agriculture. "If my milk price goes up, my feed costs go up, my vet expenses go up, everything is going to go up," he said. "We need to keep it in check."
The failure to pass a farm bill before the deadline is not uncommon. The last three farm bills -- 1996, 2002 and most recently in 2007 -- were finished a year later than expected. The 2008 farm bill expired once already on Oct. 1, 2012, with Congress finally passing an extension early this year.
The White House and the Democratically controlled Senate have said they would be unwilling to support another extension, increasing the pressure on congressional leaders to act.
"It doesn't appear to be as much of a priority as I think it ought to be given the importance of rural America to the rest of the country," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an interview. "The unfortunate circumstance is we have a lot of good momentum built up in rural areas, and all of that could be seriously compromised by this continued inability to get things done."
A long-term delay could cause farm policy to revert back to decades-old 1949 law that would limit plantings and increase the price farmers receive from the government for commodities. The move is not popular because it would throw the agricultural market into turmoil and likely lead to higher prices for consumers.
Vilsack said the USDA already is bracing for the possibility of a fallback to the 1949 law. "Come Oct. 1 we really have to start preparing for the institution of (the 1949 law) and we will be seeking input from folks as to precisely how they think we should do that," he said.
--Contact Christopher Doering at email@example.com