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Federal Farm Bill sits in limbo with 13 days of session before election

With the Sept. 30 expiration for the current 5-year Farm Bill peering over the political horizon, Iowa farmers are growing increasingly weary about the prospect of delayed disaster assistance the legislation is slated to provided.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey said in a phone interview Monday that due to the 2012 drought, Iowa crop farmers are expected to make $2 and $4 billion in crop insurance claims before the end of the harvest season with losses projected to exceed those reimbursements.

Those losses dwarf any financial assistance the state can provide, although Northey said Iowa has attempted to help farmers' yields this season with increasing the availability of conservation lands and roadside ditches for harvest. But Northey has heard good news from some producers who have said they are seeing two-thirds to three-fourths of a crop. The secretary said that with old methods of farming and without new genetics creating drought-resistant plants, yields could have been much worse this season.

"I think everybody is very interested in getting in the fields to actually see what's out there," he said.

The disaster provisions proposed on both the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill contains some of the same provisions as last year's disaster aid package, including a livestock indemnity program targeting farmers that have lost head due to heat. But Northey says that the heat was less of a problem this season than the looming prospects of higher feed prices and dry pastures.

"It certainly makes sense to reach out when you have a disaster like this," Northey said. "In the version that I've seen so far, the livestock farmers will still be under pressure with feeding costs. Even with a Farm Bill, it's not going to make it rain and it's not going to lower feed costs."

The difficulty in the bill's passage lies in the reconciliation between the House and Senate versions. The House plans more cuts in direct payments to farmers, justified by rising returns for farmers in recent years. The House proposal could also see cuts in state food stamp programs and a change in eligibility requirements for school lunch programs. In all Northey said, the House version cuts between $15 and $16.5 billion over the 5-year bill.

U.S. House Representative for Iowa's 2nd Congressional District Dave Loebsack, D-IA believes that it will be difficult to get a farm bill through both chambers and reconcile differences before November's election. The representative said in an interview Friday that due to the Congress' limited 13-day of session before voters go to the polls, he says he forsees little progress will be made on the legislation.

"To me that is unacceptable," Loebsack said. "The house should have passed a farm bill before I was sent back to the district. ... Something should have passed so their could be a conference committee going on right now between the House and Senate."

Loebsack puts the blame on Republicans in the House for not bringing the bill to the floor for a vote. The House Agricultural Committee passed its version of the Farm Bill on July 10, but House Republican leadership worry about divisions within their own ranks on the $969 million 10-year outlook for the legislation. Passing a bill before the election could also prove politically risky the more conservative members of the house, looked on by their base as government spenders. Both bills that have been drafted in respective House and Senate committees include cuts to food stamp and school lunch programs which could hit Democrats in the voting booth.

Northey anticipates Iowa farmers and others effected by the bill will see a short-term extension of the current law before the Sept. 30 deadline. But a one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill was already pulled from the House floor on July 24. He said if nothing is done, legislation would revert back to programs from the 1940s.

"The extension would have similar funding on food stamps and commodities, so there would be no absence of funding," Northey said. "But I think if you laid it out and said 'it's time to vote on it,' you'd see it pass."

Mike Mendenhall can be contacted at (641) 792-3121 ext. 422 or via email at

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