Farm bill chiefs meet as shutdown ends
By Larry Dreiling
As the government shutdown concluded, the top four negotiators for the 2013 farm bill met Oct. 16 and authorized the staffs of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees to step up discussions on the commodity title in anticipation that the full conference could begin the last week of October.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma hosted the meeting in his Longworth offices, Politico reported.
Present were Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and her ranking Republican, Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, as well as Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House side.
“I think we can get a farm bill. They sounded optimistic to me,” Cochran told Politico outside the meeting. But members in both parties said it remains to be seen what the fallout will be from the last few weeks of conflict over the government shutdown.
From a schedule standpoint, it has already been costly, delaying the appointment of conferees and now the first meeting.
The Senate was out of session this week, meaning the earliest a full conference can meet is the week of Oct. 27.
“We’ve empowered our staffs to go to a new level of work and if you have not worked with the chairwoman, you don’t know how much telephone time that can be,” Lucas said.
“We will be in constant contact,” Stabenow said.
“I’m with them,” Peterson said, but he admits that a lot depends on how the GOP leadership and tea party forces react to their embarrassing losses in the shutdown battle.
“Having leadership muck around in this is not helpful,” Peterson told Politico. “It could go either way. These guys could exact a pound of flesh out of us because of what’s happened to them with the budget: `We’re going to take it out on the farm bill.’”
“It could go the other way: `We’ve had enough of this we’re going to back off.’ It’s hard to know how it is going to play but I’m concerned about this.
“I’m going to be as helpful as I can try to get this done.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is restarting its activities following the end of the government shutdown.
Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Oct. 21 that USDA has begun distributing Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) annual rental payments to participants across the country. USDA also will distribute 2013 direct payments and 2012 Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program payments beginning Oct. 24.
Payments originally were scheduled to be issued earlier in the month, but were delayed by several weeks due to the lapse in Federal funding.
“Farmers, ranchers and rural landowners across the country count on USDA programs and the payment delays due to the shutdown were an unnecessary burden,” Vilsack said. “USDA has prioritized making these scheduled payments without any further delay and Farm Service Agency staff have worked hard to get this assistance out the door as quickly as possible.”
Producers will receive payments on almost 700,000 CRP contracts on 390,000 farms covering 26.8 million acres. In exchange for a yearly rental payment provided by USDA on contracts ranging from 10 to 15 years, farmers and ranchers enrolled in CRP agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant grasses or trees that will improve water quality and improve waterfowl and wildlife habitat.
CRP reduced runoff and leaching of nitrogen and phosphorus into waterways by an estimated 605 million pounds and 121 million pounds, respectively, in 2012, and soil erosion reductions totaling 308 million tons in 2012.
Direct payments for 2013 for the DCP and ACRE programs are being made to the more than 1.7 million farms enrolled in the Farm Service Agency’s programs. Producers with base acres of certain commodities are eligible for DCP payments. ACRE payments for 2012-crop barley, corn, grain sorghum, lentils, oats, peanuts, dry peas, soybeans, and wheat are scheduled to be released beginning Oct. 24 and contingent upon national average market prices and yields in each state.
ACRE payments for large chickpeas, small chickpeas, canola, crambe, flaxseed, mustard seed, rapeseed, safflower, sesame, and sunflowers are scheduled to be made in early December and for long grain rice and medium and short grain rice in early February 2014 when the final 2012-13 market year average price data becomes available.
The 2008 Farm Bill, extended by the American Tax Payer Relief Act of 2012, provides authority to enroll land in DCP, ACRE and CRP through Sept. 30, 2013, however, no legislation has been enacted to reauthorize or extend this authority. Effective Oct. 1, 2013, FSA does not have legislative authority to approve or process applications for these programs.
The Farm Service Agency reported on its agency blog that they are in the process of an orderly start-up of farm program and loan activities. The Congressional lapse in funding created a backlog in requests and service delivery.
“We are committed to a proactive and customer-focused approach to prioritize activities so that we can provide the service our customers expect and deserve as quickly as possible. We encourage producers to contact their local FSA office if they have any questions or need additional information,” FSA said.
Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.