September 1, 2014

As Farm Bill is about to expire, ag boss assures farmers of stability

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack

The current Farm Bill is set to expire Sunday after the U.S. House failed to take action on an extension before the fall recess.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says while some programs will stop being funded, there will not be an immediate shutdown of the USDA, but they will have to work around the situation for now.

“There are certain circumstances where resources were being provided that helped to support administrative staff, but we’ll be able to deal with that in the short term if this thing extends for a longer period of time. Then not only would that compromise our ability to provide service, but producers would have even greater uncertainty as more programs expire and we go back to 1940 ag policy, obviously that would cause some very serious concerns,” Vilsack says.

Some immediate impacts include the end of funding for supports for dairy farmers, the sign up for the conservation reserve program will be delayed, as will drought assistance.

Vilsack, the former Democrat governor of Iowa, says programs that expired can be retroactively funded if the Farm Bill is passed after the election.

“My deep concern right now is not so much that happening, it’s that there is immediate impact on some producers, there’s uncertainty for all producers, and there’s the likelihood that this gets discussed in the context of far deeper cuts than what the Senate approve and what the House Ag Committee approved,” Vilsack says. “And that’s my concern, I think there’s a plan here for deeper cuts, and that’s unfortunate, because rural America should not have to do more than its fair share towards deficit reduction.”

Even if you aren’t directly linked to agriculture, Vilsack says there could be an impact on all Nebraskans. He says the lack of the funding for dairy farmers is a good example.

“There’s some indication that that might result in higher milk costs. The fact that livestock producers are not in a position to provide or obtain disaster assistance may result in them being forced to liquidate their herds sooner than they would otherwise do so,” Vilsack explains. “Which means that in the short term consumers may see some savings, but in the long term there’ll be some shortages and food prices will go up.”

Nebraska’s dairy industry is worth about $172-million a year. The state has some 61,000 head of dairy cows, producing more than one-point-two billion pounds of milk a year.