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Capitol Hill

Where do we go from here?The Elusive Farm Bill By Jennifer Blackburn


ince the last farm bill, there have been party changes across Washington, a housing crisis, a

U.S. debt crisis, unprecedented weather patterns, and matching behavior from Congress, characterized by partisan gridlock and historic lows in the coun- try’s approval of its governing body.

Meanwhile, in anticipation of the 2008 Farm Bill expiration on Sept. 30, 2012, the next farm bill has been evolving for more than a year and a half. In an effort to provide certainty to produc- ers, and sensing the strained political environment in Washington, D.C., agriculture leadership in Washington solicited input about policy priorities from commodity groups like the Na- tional Sorghum Producers as early as May 2010 when NSP was first called to testify before the House Agriculture Committee about the next farm bill.

In the lead-up to last summer’s U.S. debt crisis, agriculture took hard hits from critics and reformers alike who repeatedly recommended dipping into agriculture’s pocket to cushion the na- tional deficit. When Congress passed legislation in late July establishing the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, agriculture leadership in Washington jumped at the chance to write its own story to contribute to deficit reduction on farmers’ terms, while developing strong ag risk pro- tection policies and greater immunity


to unfriendly attacks. They banded to- gether to quickly negotiate policy that would protect agriculture and contrib- ute to national deficit reduction.

The resulting farm bill package was designed to cut $23 billion from agriculture spending over the next 10 years. Its life lay in the hands of the Deficit Committee, which was charged with reaching a compromise between reduced spending and en- hanced revenue to cut debt by at least $1.2 trillion.

Though the process was different than any before—faster by necessity of the Deficit Committee’s timeline and limited geographically to Washing- ton rather than spreading its fingers across the country at field hearings— NSP was deeply involved in the pro- cess, meeting with staff and members, running analysis on policy options for sorghum growers, and anxiously hop- ing for passage in the last days.

Now, after the well-publicized Deficit Committee failure, agriculture com- mittee leaders are going back to the drawing board to save the country’s farmers from sequestration and pain- ful across-the-board funding slashes that would look more like the work of an ax and less like the carefully guided blade of a scalpel, honing the interactions of each policy with the others. Despite criticism, agriculture

made significant progress during the fall, giving the committees a starting point to craft better policy for Ameri- ca’s farmers and ranchers.

Agriculture leadership say the agreed- upon package will now serve as a foundation of ideas to craft another farm bill package. They plan to hold hearings both in Washington, D.C., and the countryside this spring to again kick-start the process.

Even so, the timeline to complete a farm bill proposal remains elusive. While current farm legislation expires in September, election year politics could well push passage into 2013, potentially lacking legislative consent by both chambers like the partisan paralysis that took place within the Deficit Committee.

Needless to say, politicians are not the only players in the game. Recogniz- ing the great tradition of agriculture to reach across party lines, build coalitions, and recognize that a rising tide lifts all ships, NSP will support sorghum farmers and excellence in agriculture policy as it develops in coming months.

So while the farm bill negotiations ramp up again, one thing is assured: NSP will continue advocating spe- cifically for sorghum and the good of agriculture overall.

SORGHUM Grower Fall 2011

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