By Garrett Hawkins
As a little kid Saturday evenings in our house almost always found my parents in the living room watching a re-run of “Hee Haw.” Cartoons would have been my preference, but my father didn’t ask for my input. We had one television in our small house and only a few channels from which to choose. So I sat on our couch and laughed right along with him. I can still hear Roy Clark crooning, “Where, oh where, are you tonight? Why did you leave me here all alone?”
The country tune may be about love gone wrong, but the first two lines are easily changed to capture the feelings of farmers right now. “Where, oh where, is the farm bill tonight? Why did Congress leave me here all alone?”
Most Americans are not aware the 2008 farm bill, the law containing many of our nation’s farm and food policies, expired September 30. They really have no reason to know. Farmers and ranchers are still harvesting crops, milking cows, feeding their animals and handling their daily duties. The food supply chain continues to process, market and deliver goods. Grocery store shelves and cases remain full.
So what’s the big deal? Farmers and ranchers affected by the worst drought in decades will have to wait longer for livestock disaster assistance programs to be reinstated. In addition, no safety net is in place to help dairy farmers deal with record high feed costs. Programs used to promote American farm products overseas lapsed, as did programs dealing with energy, agricultural research and rural development.
Farmers can be relieved that crop insurance is not affected, and commodity-specific programs remain in place for this year’s crop. Nutrition programs, the biggest chunk of the farm bill in terms of overall spending (nearly 80 percent), continue to be funded.
The big deal is the uncertainty caused by the lapse. Farmers are ready to move past this year and prepare for the next. Decisions need to be made and steps taken to secure financial assistance from lending institutions. Not knowing the final details of new farm programs or when to expect a new farm bill makes the task more difficult. Many other people interested in farm bill programs, from conservation to research, are ready for new legislation, too.
Congress is scheduled to get back to its legislative work once the campaign season is over. Members of Missouri’s Congressional delegation are ready to finish the farm bill. Let’s hope their colleagues are ready to do the same because continued gridlock is nothing to “hee haw” about.
(Garrett Hawkins, of Jefferson City, Mo. is director of national legislative programs for the Missouri Farm Bureau)
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