The government shutdown is not the only federal source of delay and insecurity facing Arkansans. The farm bill expired on October 1st but it took until last weekend to appoint conferees to begin reconciling the Senate and House versions of the legislation. The House bill removes funding for food assistance for low income people and is a major point of contention.
In an interview with Talk Business Arkansas, state Agriculture Secretary Butch Calhoun said he’s not sure why Congress has taken so long to start reconciling different versions of the bill. He says it is affecting farmers trying to plan ahead.
“This is two years in a row now. At the end of the 2008 farm bill, when it played out, they couldn’t pass a farm bill so they extended it for one year. Now it’s another year and everything’s gone away again. If they extend it for another year that’s like putting a band aid on an artery that’s bleeding real bad. Like any successful business a farmer has to be looking ahead to what crops he’s going to plant, what the price is going to be, what the support price is going to be. That’s going to set the market on a lot of things,” said Calhoun.
Republican Representative Rick Crawford was appointed last weekend as a conferee and voted in the House to remove food stamps funding from the bill. Republican Senator John Boozman was previously appointed in the Senate and says he supports some cuts to food assistance but talked of a farm bill including its funding.
“Hopefully we’ll got all of that lined out in the Senate and the House to try and get an equitable situation that protects farmers throughout the country and then also make it such that the food stamp program operates where it is doing the best job it can making sure those that need aid get it,” said Boozman.
Secretary Calhoun said passing a farm bill used to be routine, “Your northern congressman and senators and your southern congressman and senators would get together and they’d work out a compromise that was good for all of agriculture. Everybody got a little piece of the pie, nobody got exactly what they wanted, but they got a piece of the pie. Then you threw in the nutrition for the big cities where most of that money goes, or used to go anyhow, and you would get a compromise amongst all the members. They would come up with a farm bill we could all live with. Apparently something’s happened in Washington, ideology has taken over."
Boozman said he sees the need for quick long-term action, “If the farm community doesn’t know what the rules are going to be for the next five years they simply can’t buy the equipment that they need, they can’t get the loans that they need, and it really does impact a huge portion of the economy."
Calhoun said the damage is compounded by the effects of the government shutdown. He said agricultural loans, commodity data, and shipping backlogs are areas to be concerned about in the coming weeks.