South Carolina Farmers in Limbo until Farm Bill Passes

Some South Carolina farmers are taking lawmakers' failure to meet the Sept. 30 deadline for passage of the federal farm bill in stride ... at least for now.
by | November 13, 2012

Some South Carolina farmers are taking lawmakers' failure to meet the Sept. 30 deadline for passage of the federal farm bill in stride ... at least for now.

"We are not freaking out over it, but if December comes and there is no farm bill, we will start freaking out about it," Clemson Extension Agent Charles Davis said.

It would be a complete disaster if a farm bill failed to pass, he said. "I don't think they are stupid enough to let that happen."

The 1,000-page federal farm bill is a five-year collection of agricultural subsidies and incentives that includes everything from price supports for milk to food stamps.

The Senate's version, passed in June, cut farm spending by $23.1 billion over 10 years. The Senate's version leaves sugar subsidies in place but food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, took a hit.

In the House, the Agriculture Committee agreed to $35.1 billion in cuts, but there weren't enough votes to bring that bill to the floor.

The failure to pass a bill most immediately impacts dairy farmers and the Milk Income Loss Contract program, which ended Sept. 30 when the law expired.

If a bill fails to pass, price supports would revert back to formulas used in 1949. Milk farmers say that would drive them out of the international market.

Bowman dairy and row crop farmer Archie Felder's family has been raising cows since the late 1920s and has benefitted from price supports in place since the Agricultural Act of 1949.

Felder said the failure to pass a farm bill and not to have the MILC contract in place would take away farmers' safety net, especially when prices of milk are low and feed costs are high.

Even so, "I don't really know how it is going to affect us," he said.

Bowman dairy farmer Hal Arant said the dairy industry continues to debate between having a margin insurance program or a government-controlled milk supply program.

"Something has to be done," he said.

Davis said the most significant concern for row crop farmers is planning for 2013 without a farm bill.

"The farm bill is intended to provide a safety net for farmers and helps stabilize production and prices," Davis said. "It is intended to guarantee America an abundant food supply."

"The farm bill provides target pricing and loan rate guarantees that farmers need to have some assurance that they are there before they plant a crop," Davis said. "We are pretty doggone concerned about where it could lead."

Row crop farmer Thomas Turner said he is keeping his fingers crossed for the passage of the bill.

"We hope they pass a good farm bill but that is yet to be seen," he said.

Turner said, "As long as grain prices stay high, there is not much of an impact but if grain prices dipped it would be a huge impact."

Davis said missing the deadline for passage of the farm bill is not new.

Five years ago, the bill did not pass until after the deadline.

"It is typical of what we have seen from this Congress," Davis said. "Eleventh-hour and 11:30-hour goings on."


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