Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 6, 2013

Farm Bill still in limbo

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The U.S. House of Representatives’ rejection of a $940 billion farm bill is an extreme disappointment that could hurt both farmers and consumers, northwest Michigan’s Farm Bureau representative said.

The House version of the Farm Bill was defeated in June by a vote of 195 to 234. Ben LaCross represents the Michigan Farm Bureau in the region and said the legislation is critical to area farmers’ futures.

“The nation’s farmers, consumers and public benefit from good farm policy, and this legislation was really substantial reform to our food policy that we haven’t seen come out of Washington in a number of years,” said LaCross, a Cedar-area cherry farmer.

He said the legislation was “fiscally responsible, it reformed antiquated farm programs, and it was a good piece of legislation that unfortunately didn’t get passed.”

USA Today reports the House’s thumbs-down vote largely was due to a split between Democrats and Republicans over food stamp reform. Approximately $2 billion in reductions to the food stamp program were inadequate, House Republicans believed, while Democrats thought the cuts were too much, the newspaper reported.

Federal legislators tackle a new farm bill every five years. It is the centerpiece of the nation’s food policy, impacting public health, nutrition, agricultural production and the environment. Various versions of the legislation offered over the last two years in the House and Senate seek to eliminate direct payment farm subsidies, replacing the aid with disaster assistance and loans.

The legislation also is highly relevant to the Grand Traverse region for its attempts to offer crop insurance to cherry farmers. The 2012 cherry growing season was arguably the worst on record because of bad weather, prompting a movement to secure adequate crop insurance for fruit growers. Sweet cherry growers in only a handful of counties in northwest Michigan could access crop insurance in 2012 through a pilot program, while tart cherry farmers have no crop insurance coverage options.

“Farmers have been left in limbo the last couple of years because no permanent farm bill has been enacted,” LaCross said. “They don’t know what type of risk management tools are at their disposal and it’s really challenging when it comes to planting decisions.”

Many also expect milk prices to dramatically rise if the Farm Bill isn’t passed.

Rep. Dan Benishek, R-1st District, voted for the House version of the Farm Bill. U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow heads the Senate Committee on Agriculture. She criticized the House vote in a statement, saying the Senate version of the Farm Bill already passed in the Senate by a 66-27 vote.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has been quoted saying the House will take up the Farm Bill again this month.