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Agriculture advocates hoped for new farm bill

As part of its agreement to avert scheduled tax increases and spending cuts, Congress voted this week to extend the 2008 farm bill through September.

The move stymies efforts to replace direct farm subsidies with taxpayer-backed insurance programs that cover drops in crop prices and yields. That switch was part of a five-year farm bill approved last year by the full Senate and the House Agriculture Committee that was not considered by the entire House.

“The shame of it is we’re wasting some money that could have been used in the long run much better,” Kent Yeager, public policy director for Indiana Farm Bureau, said Wednesday in a telephone interview.

“Most Indiana farmers will take money when they can get it, like anybody else,” Yeager said about direct subsidy payments. “But the vast majority of Indiana farmers were willing to forgo that and hope that the money was spent better in the long run for things like conservation and especially crop insurance.”

With Congress facing another fiscal crisis in February – deciding whether to raise the national debt limit – Yeager fears “it’s going to be hard to squeeze out dollars” for agriculture.

A new farm bill would have cost nearly $1 trillion but would have slashed billions of dollars from food stamps, which account for about 80 percent of federal expenditures for agriculture.

Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-2nd, will join the Senate Agriculture Committee when he is sworn in as a new senator today. He complained Wednesday that the 2008 farm bill extension is “only the bare minimum Congress could have enacted regarding our national agriculture policy.”

“Even after the worst drought in decades, it does not extend long-expired disaster assistance,” Donnelly said in a statement. “Further, it fails to renew important energy and rural development programs.”

The American Soybean Association said in a statement it is “very disappointed” that a new farm bill has not been passed. The group did praise Congress for a “meaningful solution” to estate taxes and extending a biodiesel fuel tax credit. The budget deal restores a $5 million exemption for estate taxes while raising the top tax rate from 35 percent to 40 percent.

The National Corn Growers Association wasn’t as kind. Association President Pam Johnson said in a statement her group “is tired of the endless excuses and lack of accountability” from Congress on a new farm bill. “The system is clearly broken.”