USDA begins drought workshops as farm bill uncertainty lingers

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, October 8, 2012- In a blog post Friday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said USDA will partner with other federal agencies to conduct workshops in drought-impacted regions of the country over the next three weeks. 

He said the workshops will start in Omaha, Nebraska on October 9. Over the month of October, meetings will take place in Pueblo, Colo.; Pine Bluff, Ark.; and Archbold, Ohio.

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“There's no silver bullet to fix the drought,” he said. “But these workshops will provide an important opportunity for folks to tell us what's needed. They'll provide a chance for everyone to learn which tools may be available to help.”

Vilsack used the opportunity to remind readers that many programs authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill expired on October 1. 

“This brings tremendous uncertainty for rural families - particularly livestock producers who have lost access to disaster programs, and dairy producers who no longer have access to dairy support programs,” he said. 

The lack of movement on a farm bill in the House of Representatives before the November election results “in a situation where we are not going to know very much until the lame-duck session, and guessing what will happen during that session at this point is pretty tough,” according to University of Missouri Extension agricultural economist Scott Brown. 

In a news update Friday from the University of Missouri Extension, Brown said the outcome of the election may indicate how Congress will pursue a farm bill in the lame-duck session.

“If the Republicans were to take control of both the House and Senate, I certainly think that is a situation where it could be more apt to see a short-term extension and the Republicans restarting the farm bill process going into 2013,” Brown said. “If control of the two chambers remains split, then I think we might see them work hard in lame duck to get a farm bill done.”

Brown said the commodity titles in the Senate and House Agriculture Committee farm bills are similar enough for lawmakers to find a compromise. However, he agreed with several policy leaders that the nutrition title will cause the most contention, because the Senate wants fewer cuts than many conservative members of the House.

“There is certainly a lot of difference of opinion when you look at the House side in terms of how far cuts need to go, and I think that's why they're so held up at this point in time,” Brown said. “They have to come back following the election and talk about some type of either extension or a new farm bill.”

Brown recognized the enactment of 1949 law in the event of no action on the bill is highly unlikely, but noted that a short-term extension will cause the farm policy package to reopen in 2013 with a lower baseline. 

“When I look at what I expect to see there, it is probably less money in the baseline,” Brown said. “We're already talking about needing to make cuts. The cuts could seem much deeper because of a different baseline. So this notion that we could extend current law, roll into 2013 and pick up where we left off may not hold if the new baseline against which we're going to measure things has changed a lot.”


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