Update on the Farm Bill

Below is an update from Ferd Hoefner, National Sustainable Ag Policy Wonk Extraordinaire!

Happy New Year!
Ellen Gray Washington Sustainable Food & Farming Network
From Ferd Hoefner ———-
Coming into the last day of the year, but not necessarily the last day of this Congress (technically the new Congress does not start until Thursday), the farm bill is still up in the air.  The House has drafted and filed three different farm bill extensions.  A full year extension that includes the new dairy program, disaster assistance, and funding for many but not all of the 37 so-called orphan programs.  And then two one month extensions that simply buy time to reach a deal during the month of January in the new Congress.  In addition to these three measures, there is also a one year extension bill drafted in the Senate, that is the same (or nearly so) as the House one year extension bill, minus the new dairy program.  The resolution of all of this today or in the next couple of days all hinges primarily on the dairy deal and Speaker Boehner’s opposition to it.
Jumping right to where we are at on our issues, below is a chart with the funding levels in the one year extension bills (both House and Senate versions) on the orphan programs, including ours.  The “rule” they followed was if an orphan program was not renewed in either the House or Senate 2012 farm bills, then they are not included with funding in the one year extension.  If they were renewed in one or both bills, then they were included.  For programs that are funded year by year, most of those get the amount that they ended with in 2012.  For programs that were funded with a lump sum for the 5 years of the farm bill, they are funded at specified amounts provided in the bill.  Renewable energy programs are funded at specified amounts that don’t have any direct bearing on the above.  It’s complicated, but the chart has the specific amounts.
Conservation
Voluntary Public Access 10M
Desert Lakes 35M
Small Watershed Rehab 20M
Rural Development
Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program 3M
Value Added Producer Grants 3M
Research
Organic Agriculture Research and Extension 20M
Specialty Crop Research Initiative 50M
Beginning Farmer & Rancher Dev Prog 19M
Forestry
Healthy Forest 9.75M
Energy
Biobased Markets Program 2M
Biodiesel Fuel Education Program 1M
Rural Energy for American Program 51M
Biomass Research and Development 33.6M
Biorefinery Assistance 100M
Biomass Crop Assistance Program 38.6M
Bioenergy 55M
Specialty Crops
Farmers Market Promotion Program 10M
Clean Plant 5M
Organic Cost Share 5M
Organic Data 1M
Miscellaneous
Outreach and Tech Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers 15M

Please note that these are the figures for the orphan programs.  It does not include programs that had funding, but no authority to spend the money once the farm bill expired on October 1. Hence, things like Community Food Projects, Senior Farmers Market Nutrition, Wetlands Reserve, etc. would all be good to go if the extension bill passes. Also – CRP could again have a general sign-up if USDA decided to do one, and continuous CRP and CREP would be back in business.

This represents a very substantial victory for us.  Most of our big ten programs get something, and I think it is safe to say that would not have been the case without our constant campaign on the big ten.

Our two big problems with the extension bill are CSP and CRP TIP.
CSP is a problem because of the appropriations bill (continuing resolution) which cut funding for CSP in 2013 to a level that does not allow NRCS to go ahead with a 2013 sign-up.  We think the appropriators will fix the problem, but not until the end of March when they pass the bill to fund the government for the second half of fiscal year 2013.  That will be very late to run CSP for 2013.  We have been appealing to the Ag Committees to fix the problem now, in the farm bill extension, which would allow NRCS a reasonable amount of time to run the program and would allow farmers to sign up during the winter and early spring time period, before planting season begins.  It matters little to farmers who caused the problem or who fixes it – to the outside world Congress is the problem and Congress could be the solution.  But in the world of Capitol Hill, it is a big deal who caused it and who fixes it and who is charged with it.  We are trying to get them to be reasonable and common sensical and just take care of business.  But turf issues may get in the way.
CRP TIP was not included for renewed funding in the extension bill because, according to House Ag Co, it has left over money from the 2008 Farm Bill.  This was brand new information to us yesterday.  FSA shut down the program quite a ways back, saying they had spent all the money from the 2008 Farm Bill.  But now House Ag says there is money left.  We are trying to get to the bottom of it.  If we can show that there is no money left, or very little, we may have a shot at getting it included.  We are waiting on word from FSA.
The overall situation on how things will proceed is still uncertain. We don’t know for sure whether the House will vote on one of the farm bill extension options and send something to the Senate, or if the Senate will go first and wrap a farm bill extension into the fiscal cliff bill. Nor do we know whether Speaker Boehner is ultimately going to relent on dairy or if he is going to continue to force the issue.
- Ferd