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Farm bill expired Monday, farmers hope for long-term replacement

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WASHINGTON – The budget was not the only significant legislation that died Monday between a deadlocked House and Senate – the farm bill also expired at midnight, leaving farm programs, crop supports and food stamps up in the air.

Unlike the budget stalemate, which sparked a partial shutdown of the federal government Tuesday, farm groups said the effect of a failed farm bill will not be felt immediately.

But they added that if Congress does not reach agreement soon on a new, multiyear farm bill, farmers will start to feel a financial pinch.

“The sky is not going to fall,” Arizona Farm Bureau President Kevin Rogers said Monday. “No farmers will really know the difference from today and tomorrow.”

But Rogers and others said farmers will know the difference this winter, as they try to plan crops, and get loans and insurance without the certainty of a new farm bill.

“Farmers are like any other business folks, we are planning our crops for next year and for the future,” Rogers said.

The farm bill finances a variety of federal programs, including crop insurance, farm subsidies and foreign food aid. The Senate version of the massive measure would allocate as much as $955 billion over the next 10 years, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis.

Farming advocates say they want a new long-term farm bill, not an extension of the previous bill, which had been in effect since 2008.

Rogers said the bill sets the government’s position on agriculture and commodities for the next five years. He said cotton is the Arizona crop that would be most affected.

Rick Lavis, vice president of the Arizona Cotton Growers Association, said his members are not yet feeling the impact of the expired bill.

“Are my growers standing around a TV set wondering what is going to happen? No!” Lavis said. “They are in the process right now of harvesting a crop.”

But it’s not just that farmers are distracted by the harvest: Because the farm bill covers farmers by crop cycles, any plants in the ground now are still covered under the bill that expired Monday.

Without a new bill, however, there is uncertainty about next year’s crop, which makes farmers a little concerned.

Rogers said farmers typically meet with their bankers in the fall, but not knowing if they will have crop insurance or get government payments can affect the size of their loan.

Steven Reiley, vice president of Farm Credit Services Southwest, an agriculture financer based in Tempe, agreed that bankers will base their decisions in part on the presence – or lack – of a farm bill.

While farm bill payments have been reliable for a number of years, Reiley said his firm cannot include them when farmers and growers apply for 2014 financing because the payments are not certain.

“We are not going to put in any (government) payments for our 2014 projections until there is an approved farm bill,” Reiley said.

He said this will keep a number of people from getting approved for an agriculture loan.

“If a new farm bill was approved and we knew what the details were we would immediately start giving credit to those details,” Reiley said.

He said that most people come in for financing from October to the end of the year. Since most Arizona crops will not go into the ground until spring, there is still time, Rogers said, but Congress needs to get a move on.

“The House has to do their job,” he said. “Doing nothing is not an option.”

Both the House and the Senate have passed farm bills this year, but the House bill does not include funding for food stamps, for decades included in the bill to ensure support from rural and urban lawmakers. House members put food stamps in a separate bill.

Dale Moore, public policy director at the American Farm Bureau, said that food stamp funding is the biggest difference between the House and Senate bills, which are otherwise very similar.

Moore said the American Farm Bureau opposed splitting the farming and food stamp bills. But now that it’s done, he said, the bureau just wants to see the House or Senate farm bill passed.

“We are now urging Congress to get the bill into conference and start sorting the differences out,” Moore said.

Over the weekend, the House took action to move the bill closer to conference with the Senate.

“It is an encouraging step,” Moore said. “However, we are not holding our breath that this will all take care of itself.”