Farmers put aside differences for farm bill, to no avail

Oct 10, 2012

The farm bill expired at the end of September and lawmakers didn’t pass a new one, thanks largely to election-year politics. Despite the partisan bickering in Washington, though, many in farm country are working together to keep their concerns on the front burner.

Take Brad Moeckly, for example. Harvesting corn near Boone, Iowa, he looks the typical farmer, wearing a seed-company hat and sunglasses. He’s recently back on the farm after a trip to Washington, D.C. As the Iowa Farm Bureau secretary for Polk County, he works locally with the national advocacy group American Farm Bureau Federation and he cares about the Farm Bill. That’s why he joined many other farmers at a rally on Capitol Hill last month. He says the proposed farm bill isn’t perfect.

“You realize you aren’t always going to get everything that you want, but by and large we’re very receptive of the way it’s put together,” Moeckly said.

The Farm Bill is always contentious—and often late. Farm groups from opposite sides of the political spectrum have spent months lobbying for their own interests. But, they’ve mostly put aside their differences.

“We just don’t want it watered down,” Moeckly said. “We’re content with it the way it is and that’s why we want this thing passed.”

Chris Petersen of Clear Lake, Iowa, also attended the rally. He’s president of the Iowa Farmers Union and participated in the National Farmers Union’s lobbying efforts. He says the coming together is an example of democracy in action.

“For once, you know, this is kind of the way America is supposed to work,” Peterson said. “When there’s a big issue out there, all these different groups with different thoughts on policy—what was supposed to be in the farm bill—came together to push for the farm bill.”

The rally was sponsored by Farm Bill Now, a broad coalition of farm and food groups that formed late this summer. The Farmers Union, which leans Democratic, and the Farm Bureau, which is more Republican, stood together in support of the bill. In this highly-charged political season, the farm bill brought together other groups with widely disparate interests—commodities, livestock, conservation, nutrition and more.

Chris Clayton, the ag policy editor at the news service DTN/Progressive Farmer, says rallying together for something as huge and multifaceted as the Farm Bill transcends individual interests. Clayton says some of the farm groups rallying for the a bill aren’t even particularly happy with the version on the table, but put their commitment to any Farm Bill ahead of their specific interests.

“A lot of these groups came together basically out of a need to realize that the budget for farm programs could get a lot smaller,” Clayton said.

That uncertainty leaves farmers anxious. Petersen says after this hot, dry summer, some farmers are in an especially vulnerable situation. The stalled farm bill adds to their stress because they’re already thinking about financing for next year, even if Congress isn’t.

“If you’re a farmer who had a really short crop and has financial problems such as carrying some debt or not being able to pay off your operating note from this year,” Petersen said, “getting approval to farm another year from the bank, and getting a credit line…it could become dicey.”

Farm Bill supporters say they’ve provided an example for Washington and put the greater good ahead of their political differences. But the House leadership has confirmed the Farm Bill won’t see any further action until after Election Day. That means all farmers can do now is wait. And farm.