Farm bill limbo all too familiar

By Christina Calloway

PNT senior writer

ccalloway@pntonline.com

New Mexico farmers are in limbo as they await movement on a farm bill during the federal government shutdown, according to a New Mexico Farm Bureau official, a position they are all too familiar with.

Agricultural producers say they are in need of the bill because it includes disaster assistance programs but the bill failed to make Congress’ floor last year, causing the existing farm bill to be extended.

Once again, New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau Vice President Matt Rush said farmers fear the bill won’t get any traction, especially with the partial government shutdown in effect.

“We know that the farm bill isn’t going anywhere,” Rush said. “We were supposed to go to Washington D.C. this week and we had meetings with the American Farm Bureau and our Congressional delegation, but until they get past this budget block, absolutely nothing will happen.”

The future of insurance for farmers is a nebulous one, according to Rush. If there isn’t a farm bill complete by the end of the year, the current farm bill will revert back to an outdated 1940’s version.

“Everyone in agriculture is completely left in limbo, all of our crop insurance is done through the feds,” Rush said.

Rush adds even if producers are able to jump the shutdown hurdle, he believes that the farm bill the House passed in July prior to the shutdown has its share of problems because SNAP, a federal food assistance program tied to the farm bill, was cut by $40 billion.

He said it’s unlikely the Senate would pass that version.

“I understand what they’re trying to do but at the same time there are so few people in production and agriculture that the reason they put (SNAP in the bill) is to get it passed,” Rush said. “If you think about it from the standpoint of farmers and ranchers, that’s the one reason they tie nutritional programs to it. Now (ag producers) are 1.5 percent of the population. If you’re a politician, (ag producers) are not a big priority and we’re seeing that now.”

U.S. Congressman Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., said the House farm bill not only removed provisions to fund nutrition programs, but did nothing to support New Mexico’s dairy producers.

“The Republican-passed bill stripped out the Dairy Stabilization Program, a key component to dairy policy reform that would have helped producers across New Mexico,” Lujan said.

He opposed the deep cuts to the food assistance program, calling them damaging to New Mexico families.

“The next step in the legislative process is for the House and the Senate to go to conference committee to work out the differences between the legislation passed in both chambers,” Lujan said. “Right now in (Washington D.C.), ending the government shutdown and avoiding a default on the nation’s debt are the top priorities, making the fate of the farm bill unclear.”

Rush sees that the divide on the nutritional program will be a problem but he’s hoping both houses can compromise so that ag producers can continue to produce food for the nation.

“It’s the importance of groups like ours because we’re trying to keep this in front of elected officials,” Rush said. “We’ve been full in this country so long that no one knows where the food comes from anymore.”

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