Farm News

The Debt Ceiling

Two weeks in, the federal government shutdown is being overshadowed by the looming debt default deadline of Oct. 17.  Unless Congress acts to up the debt ceiling in the next day or so, the country will run low on money and some of the government’s bills will go unpaid.  Analysts warn that debt default could be far worse for the country than the government shutdown, with the effects rippling through the economy, financial markets and down to Main Street. 

Still, there are a number of Americans feeling the squeeze of Congress' budget impasse.  Among the most visible are farmers and ranchers in South Dakota, where a surprise October blizzard resulted in the death of as many as 60,000 cattle.  Nearly 6,000 ranchers suffered losses. 

Normally, farmers and ranchers would head straight to their local USDA Farm Service Agency office to file a report, the first step in recouping some of those losses.  However, the government shutdown has shuttered every one those offices. 

USDA’s monthly commodity crop reports are a no-go, too, leaving many people without information, which is a critical currency in commodity markets.

“One of the key things for a competitive market is that everybody knows the same thing that everybody else knows.  That’s what USDA’s reports provide,” explained Bob Young, American Farm Bureau Federation chief economist and deputy executive director of public policy.  “When USDA’s reports are not available, then the folks who have private information have that much more market power, that much more market knowledge.”

The blizzard in South Dakota also highlighted, at least for farmers, ranchers and farm-state lawmakers, the expiration of the extension of the 2008 farm bill.  However, that’s one area in which Congress is making progress, albeit slowly. 

On Sept. 28, the House reconnected the nutrition title of the farm bill and the earlier passed farm provisions, finally putting the bill on track for a House-Senate conference. Since then, both the House and Senate have appointed their farm bill conference committee members.

In a recent letter to the conferees, who are listed below, AFBF reiterated farmers’ and ranchers’ farm bill priorities. 

The group’s “two overarching concerns for conference are ensuring that a complete, unified farm bill continues and that permanent law is not repealed,” wrote AFBF President Bob Stallman on Oct. 15. 

Overall, each chamber’s farm bill provides an adequate safety net for farmers and ranchers, and does so in a logical way consistent with AFBF policy, Stallman noted.

The group specifically supports both bills’ increased emphasis on a strong and affordable crop insurance program that improves producers’ abilities to better tailor their individual risk management plans; safety net options; increased flexibility in planting to respond to market demand; continuation of the marketing loan program with loan rates established to better reflect market values; and additional assistance for specialty crop producers.

Equally supported by farmers and ranchers are the reauthorization and mandatory funding of livestock and tree disaster programs; a gross margin insurance program for dairy; maintenance of the current sugar program; streamlining of conservation programs; continued funding for export market promotion programs; and innovative rural development programs. 

The seven Democratic and five Republican Senate conferees are: Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.); Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.);  Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa);  Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.); Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio); Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.); Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.); Senate Agriculture Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.); Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.);  Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.); Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.); and Sen. John Hoeven (R-N. D.)

The House leadership appointed 17 Republican and 12 Democratic conferees.

Republican conferees from the House Agriculture Committee include: Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.); Steve King (R-Iowa); Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas); Mike Rogers (R-Ala.); Mike Conaway (R-Texas); Glenn Thompson (R-Penn.); Austin Scott (R-Ga.); Rick Crawford (R-Ark.); Martha Roby (R-Ala.); Kristi Noem (R-S.D.); Jeff Denham (R-Calif.); and Rodney Davis (R-Ill.)

Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) will serve as a leadership conferee. Republican conferees from the House Foreign Affairs Committee include Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Rep. Tom Marino (R-Penn.).

Republican conferees from the House Ways and Means Committee include Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas).

Democratic conferees from the House Agriculture Committee include Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.); Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.); Jim Costa (D-Calif.); Tim Walz (D-Minn.); Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.); Jim McGovern (D-Mass.); Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Calif.); and Filemon Vela (D-Texas).

Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, will serve as a conferee.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and House Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-Mich.) also were named conferees.

What it means to the Farm Bill

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