Nation & World

Several ag programs in danger as U.S. farm bill talks stall

SNAP, crop insurance to continue

John Hofmann harvests corn from the land he farms in rural Marion on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. Zingula recently installed a saturated buffer and tile flow regulator to help reduce the nitrate levels in field runoff on his land and reduce. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
John Hofmann harvests corn from the land he farms in rural Marion on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. Zingula recently installed a saturated buffer and tile flow regulator to help reduce the nitrate levels in field runoff on his land and reduce. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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WASHINGTON — The failure by a U.S. Senate and House conference committee to agree on a final version of a five-year farm bill leaves dozens of programs in limbo.

Initiatives such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund and federal matching funds for statewide agricultural groups included in the 2014 farm bill expired on Monday, Oct. 1.

House Republicans voted to go home for the midterm elections and come back into session in November, leaving a standoff between Senate and House farm bill conferees over divisive issues such as work requirements for food stamp recipients, crop insurance and commodities.

Food stamps — known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — and crop insurance will continue during the election hiatus because each has a permanent authorization.

Policymakers and advocacy groups are working to make sure other programs carry on in stopgap fashion until after the House returns and the conference committee once again seeks consensus on a bill that can be sent to President Donald Trump.

Farmers “are not really wringing their hands yet,” said Kevin Paap, the Blue Earth County soybean and corn farmer who is president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau.

The delay has added uncertainty to planting decisions that must be made soon, Paap noted, but “we’ve got time to get this done in the lame-duck session after the November elections.”

Right now, Paap said, most farmers are concentrating on harvesting.

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“We’re focused on getting the crop out while the weather is right,” he said. However, if disagreements persist into December, he thinks there will be reason to worry.

Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said passage of the farm bill is needed to extend security to farmers amid trade issues that have seen tariffs threaten agricultural exports from Minnesota and other states.

Whether the impact of the trade war on America’s agricultural heartland is enough to lead conferees to a compromise on the food stamp work requirement is unclear.

Senate negotiators clearly are against increasing the work requirements, while House Republicans made it a centerpiece of their version of the farm bill.

That impasse and a couple of others have left several programs in danger of running out of funds and some defaulting to antiquated legislation that could cost taxpayers dearly, according to the Farm Bill Law Enterprise, a consortium specializing in agricultural law.

Advocacy groups began sounding alarms this week.

Various groups and politicians cited concerns about funding for commodity price supports and recruitment of young people to farming.

Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., a farm bill conference committee member, criticized the House decision to adjourn without a bill. But he believes negotiators can still find common ground by year’s end.

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