Why a farm bill extension won’t work

Published 12:52 pm Saturday, September 7, 2013

In just a few days, Congress will come back to Washington, D.C. and Rural America is counting on passage of a comprehensive, multiyear Food, Farm and Jobs Bill as soon as possible.

In January, Congress extended some of the 2008 Farm Bill programs for nine months. This didn’t include important disaster assistance programs for farmers and ranchers. On September 30, many of these programs will expire, leaving producers and rural communities without a wide variety of Farm Bill programs.

While Congress has already extended these programs once, another extension of current law isn’t common sense and it won’t solve this challenge.

An extension won’t provide the certainty that has for so long been a cornerstone of the Farm Bill. It would deny farmers and ranchers the ability to plan their operation around a predictable, long-term farm safety net. For rural communities, it would provide little certainty with regard to economic development programs. It would set no long-term standards for conservation or renewable energy programs.

And failure to pass a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill would do nothing to solve the Brazil cotton trade dispute. Left unresolved, this situation threatens producers and small businesses in America with hundreds of millions of dollars annually in tariff penalties against U.S. agriculture products and other American-made goods.

All of this uncertainty would diminish the positive impacts that Farm Bill programs have in rural America. Another extension would not accomplish the many important goals that would be achieved through passage of a comprehensive, long-term bill. In many respects, it would simply reward failure on the part of Congress.

However, Congress has the opportunity to tackle this challenge and get a comprehensive bill done for rural America. A multi-year Food, Farm and Jobs Bill would lend the certainty and predictability that producers and rural communities deserve. It would put our farmers and ranchers in a position to continue a period of strong growth and growing exports, while providing a leg up for rural communities and working families.

Rural America is counting on Congress to get their job done as soon as possible on a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill — not another extension.

TOM VILSACK is the United States Secretary of Agriculture