The town of Sandoval, Ill., was born along U.S. Route 51, which runs north-south from Kentucky to the state of Wisconsin. Once a booming corridor, this area in southern Illinois now sees extreme poverty.
In recent years, farmers in the Midwest have transformed millions of acres of prairie grass to rows of corn. High crop prices are a big motivation, but some also believe crop insurance is encouraging farmers to roll the dice on less productive land.
Rod Christen and his sister Kay farm corn, soybeans and wheat on their land near the small town of Steinauer, Neb. But their main crop is grass.
“Big bluestem is our big producer,” said Rod Christen. “It’s kind of our Cadillac grass.”
The program shells out to farmers and land owners regardless of need or loss. It’s a hold-out from a farm bill that promised an end to subsidies and it’s holding on only because Congress is so dysfunctional.
The farm bill is, once again, entering a critical stretch. As was the case last year, the current law expires at the end of September. There’s no election to dissuade elected officials from tackling the major piece of agriculture and nutrition policy—but Congress does have a pretty full plate, with the crisis in Syria, immigration reform and a measure to continue funding federal government programs all set to come to a head.
With Congress in its August recess, the farm bill is stalled and many are pessimistic about getting a new bill passed before the current extension expires on Sept. 30. Still, farm country legislators aren’t exactly giving up hope.
Republican Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock was asked about the farm bill at a town hall style meeting in in his district this week. He said that he thinks the most likely outcome is that the House will pass a “food stamp bill,” to go along with a agriculture portion it passed in June. That could put the farm bill back on track.
U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri says she will spend much of the August congressional recess talking about the farm bill, which is hung up in a legislative impasse.
Hopes are dim for compromise on the legislation after the Senate approved a five-year plan regulating farm programs and food stamps, but the House signed off on a bill dealing only with farm programs. McCaskill says Republican efforts to make sharp cuts to the food stamp program are holding up the farm bill, which she says is unfair to farmers in Missouri.
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed its version of the farm bill, a version that excludes funding for nutrition assistance programs nationwide. But most analysts believe the Democrat-controlled Senate won’t approve a version that does not include funding for programs like food stamps.