Eighty organizations, including agriculture groups and consumer groups, participating in a “Farm Bill Now” rally Sept. 12 in Washington, D.C. at the Capitol Reflecting Pond hope their enthusiasm will spur Congress to pass the farm bill. The current bill expires at the end of September.
The rally was Web cast.
National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson and American Farm Bureau Federation president Bob Stallman served as masters of ceremonies for the event, according to a news release.
Speaking on behalf of the specialty crop industry, David Masser, president of Keystone Potato Products, Hagins, Pa., and member of United’s Fresh-Cut Processor Board, spoke at the rally, according to a release from United Fresh.
“Pressure is mounting on Congress to take action on a Farm Bill,” Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy United Fresh said in the release. “The fresh produce industry could lose funding for several critical programs, including pest management, marketing, trade, nutrition and research programs, if a bill is not passed soon. We urge Congress to move forward with the legislation that the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee have crafted.”
In addition to the rally, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack added to the chorus of those seeking action on the legislation, calling the bill the most important piece of legislation for rural America.
“The credit, the disaster assistance, the export promotion, the conservation assistance, the rural development component, the energy component — it’s all at risk because on Sept. 30, the 2008 farm bill expires,” he said in a statement. “We don’t know for certain that we’ll have any disaster assistance for those poor livestock guys, and dairy guys and the specialty crop producers that are struggling.”
One sticking point to a five-year passage appears to be the cost of the legislation. Republican conservatives in the House want to cut food stamp spending on the bill more than the Senate-approved farm bill and the version passed by the House Agriculture Committee, media reports indicate. In the absence of a five-year farm bill, industry lobbyists and Capitol Hill sources said Congress may try to pass a short-term extension and a drought-assistance package.
In Sept. 10 comments to on the floor of the Senate, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and chairwoman of the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, urged House Republican leadership to allow the full farm bill to be voted on.
“We have 20 days until the farm bill expires — only 20 days. If that happens, if the Republican leadership does not work with us to pass a five-year farm bill, they are going to reset the clock for rural America all the way back to 1949. Because if the farm bill expires, we go back to Depression-era policies that include government planting restrictions and expensive price supports — absolutely unacceptable,” she said.
“We don’t need to kick this can down the road and create another crisis for farm country.”