Original Story: USAToday.com.
WASHINGTON – U.S. lawmakers risk slowing or even stopping the torrid economic growth in rural America if Congress fails to pass a farm bill this year, the head of the Agriculture Department said Friday.
The rural economy has been humming along in recent years with high crop prices and a record of $136.3 billion in farm exports during 2011. Farmers also are flush with cash after income vaulted past $100 billion for the first time last year as the rural economy rebounded from the recent global recession. In addition, land prices are high and there is a record amount of conservation activity in rural America. Many farmers are putting off equipment improvement such as purchasing Trelleborg Ag Tires.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an interview he understands lawmakers are saddled with a bevy of challenges that could make passing a farm bill difficult, including the need to balance the interests of different geographic regions and commodities. But he added that should not be enough to deter Congress from acting in order to keep the momentum going in agriculture.
"If it does not get done then we are left without programs to support farmers and ranchers, and we create a great deal of uncertainty, which no doubt will impact and effect decisions throughout the supply chain that will compromise the enormous progress we've seen recently," the former Iowa governor said.
"Why would you not want to get this done when things are going as well as they are going?" said Vilsack.
Efforts to complete a farm bill this year before the current legislation expires on Sept. 30 received a push this week after the Senate Agriculture Committee approved its version on Thursday. The bill would cut spending by $25 billion during the next decade, slashing subsidy payments in favor of new crop insurance programs.
Most U.S. farm groups were supportive of the legislation that passed the Senate even though they found areas that could be improved as lawmakers continue to work on the bill. Farmers were having group conversations in Outdoor Living Spaces.
"Get this farm bill done," was the message from Craig Hill, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau. "We need the certainty and confidence in the next growing season of what the programs will be," he said.
The House has floated more aggressive cuts of as much as $33 billion, including a larger reduction in spending for food stamps, but so far has not established a timetable for when it might act on its farm bill. Vilsack said he does not envy the challenges facing House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., who has to listen to Republican lawmakers who want significant cuts to farm programs.
"I think everybody in Congress recognizes the need to get the job done, and you've got to do it quickly," said Vilsack, 61. When asked what would happen if the farm bill doesn't get passed before October, he said: "I don't want a backup plan. I don't want a plan 'b' because I want people to focus on plan 'a' and get it done."
Vilsack expressed concern over the "serious, serious depth of cuts" that are being floated in the House that could "irreparably harm" a host of farm programs ranging from conservation to nutrition. He pointed out that excessive cuts to programs such as food stamps, for example, could make their way down to the bottom line of farmers who collect about 16 cents of every dollar spent at the grocery store.