Farm Bill held for ransom? (Editorial)

Caught in the vice of partisan polarity and apparently unconcerned about the fate of the nation’s farmers, members of the U.S. House of Representatives have gone home until after the November elections.
When you see them on their various campaign trails, ask them, please, what happened to the Farm Bill.
The current Farm Bill was to expire on Sept.30 and somewhere on a shelf in the vastness of our nation’s capital, these erstwhile members of Congress have deposited at least the framework for a replacement.
Don’t take any bets on how long it will stay there. Making decisions no longer seems to be a prerequisite to serving the country.
In any event, a new comprehensive five-year Farm Bill will receive zero attention until after Nov. 6 and if someone drags it off that shelf in the remaining lame-duck days of this Congress, its fate is equally uncertain.
Leaders of the agricultural industry have expressed their dismay and frustration and their fears for an industry and its farmers who, in the wake of a devastating drought and other challenges, have been left essentially safety-net naked.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack lamented that, as U.S. agriculture fights to maintain “the tremendous momentum it has built over the past three years,” natural disasters and other external forces are “threatening livelihoods of our farmers and ranchers, certainty is more important than ever.
“Americans deserve a food, farm and jobs bill that reforms the safety net for producers in times of need, promotes the bio-based economy, conserves our natural resources, strengthens rural communities, promotes job growth in rural America, and supports food assistance to low-income families,” Vilsack said. “Without the certainty of a multi-year bill, rural communities are being asked to shoulder undue burdens.”
ASA President Steve Wellman, a soybean farmer from Syracuse, Neb., voiced the association’s frustrations. ‘In no uncertain terms, Congress has let farmers down by not taking action on a new five-year farm bill,” he said.
“It is a sad statement on the perceived lack of importance of rural America in Washington when a bipartisan bill that provides certainty for farmers, livestock disaster assistance, nutrition programs, crop insurance improvements, conservation of our natural resources and reduces our nation’s budget deficits is shelved in favor of scoring political points in an election year.”
Protecting farmers is just one of many concerns of the nation’s farm bills, and another is the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
In a Bay Daily on-line report last week, the Bay Foundation noted that if a Farm Bill does not emerge before election day, “it will mark the first time in decades that this major source of funding for farms and food programs nationally has run out without any good prospects of a political compromise to keep it operating.”
Historically, in 2008, CBF and others helped add to the Farm Bill a new section called the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, which authorized $23 million for Bay region pollution control projects in 2009, $43 million in 2010, $72 million in 2011, and $50 million in 2012.
“With this money,” CBF said, “farmers receive partial reimbursement for projects to build manure containment pits and fences to keep cattle out of streams, as well as to plant strips of trees along streams, to absorb runoff pollution, among other efforts.
“This funding is necessary for the Chesapeake region states to meet new EPA pollution limits for the Bay. The states have launched plans that are blueprints for cleaning up the Bay, but these blueprints will be difficult to put into action without federal money for farm runoff control projects.”
The gridlock which, like a nasty viral infection, has infected the federal bureaucracy, seems to defy a cure, a release.
It could break on Nov. 6. ... But you know what? We’re not betting on that either.