The 'six Ds' of a farm bill extension

The dairy industry is a particular concern if the current farm bill is extended, says Ferd Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. That's because the Milk Income Loss Contract program has already expired and therefore wouldn’t be included in a basic extension. (Justine Greve for Harvest Public Media)

The lame duck session of Congress, which begins this week, attempts to complete legislative tasks left undone before the elections. One of those pending bills is, of course, the farm bill.

But while it would be logistically possible to get a five-year comprehensive bill passed, it seems unlikely, according to Ferd Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

So Hoefner, who was speaking Wednesday during a forum sponsored by the Farm Foundation, turned his attention to a potential short-term extension of the current 2008 Farm Bill.

 “There is very, very serious work that needs to get done,” he said, to make an extension work. “And there hasn’t been a lot of talk about that.”

Here are Hoefner’s six “D words” regarding an extension:

1.)    Delay: If there’s to be a delay in achieving a five-year bill, how long will it be?

2.)    Disaster: Disaster relief is included in a full farm bill, but if there is a short-term extension, Congress needs to supply some money for current disaster relief.

3.)    Dairy: A simple, clean extension of the 2008 Farm Bill doesn’t work for dairy because the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program has already expired and therefore wouldn’t be included in a basic extension.

4.)    Development: Programs that develop value-added agriculture,  that nurture the new generation of farmers, that support on-farm energy production, organic agriculture, and micro-businesses in rural communities are all part of a category of programs that have had mandatory Farm Bill funding for just one or two cycles — in other words, relatively new programs. Congress has to explicitly take action to re-fund these programs for 2013 in a one-year extension. Hoefner said programs without a baseline will not be automatically considered in a future farm bill, which is why it’s important to get these programs into an extension, which would then give them a baseline.  “It’s totally doable to get that into an extension bill and move these programs further,” he said.

5.)    Down payment on farm subsidy reform (or, elimination of direct payments): Both parties agree direct payments will come to an end in the new cycle and that, he said, makes everything else more possible. That money, for example, can be used to sustain some of the development programs mentioned above.

6.)    Deficit reduction: Hoefner said the savings from the direct payments program could also contribute to a deficit-reduction program.

Hoefner also commented on murmurings about the size of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the question of whether it belongs in the farm bill.

“In parts of farm country,” he said, “it almost gets said, outright at least, that this is happening at the expense of farm programs. That is blatantly false.” He said the size of SNAP is calculated to ebb and flow with demand for the services and does not take money from other farm bill programs.

The Farm Foundation Forum included several other speakers and was the first one the organization has webcasted live. Content from the program will be archived on the foundation’s website.