Farmers urged to lobby Congress for new farm bill
THOMASBORO — The Illinois Farm Bureau is urging area farmers to tell their congressmen they want a farm bill and they want it soon.
On a swing through Champaign County on Wednesday, the Farm Bureau's governmental affairs director, Mark Gebhards, told farmers that crop insurance could be at risk if Congress can't come to terms on a farm bill.
The current bill is set to expire Sept. 30, but the Senate and House appear far apart on a new bill. The Senate passed its version in June, and Gebhards called that "a pretty good bill."
But the House has chosen to separate legislation dealing with nutrition programs from the rest of the bill — a move Gebhards fears will jeopardize passage of any bill.
"That's not going to fly in the Senate," he said. "It isn't getting us where we need to be."
The move to have a separate bill for nutrition programs was made to satisfy conservative Republicans seeking deeper cuts in those programs.
But Gebhards worries it will end up making the farm bill a pawn in the next debt-ceiling showdown.
"It seems like we are now taking a major detour," he stated in a flier distributed to farmers. "The approach to split the farm bill and seek even more nutrition cuts appears to be a strategy that makes getting to our final destination very uncertain."
That destination is getting the House and Senate to agree and having a five-year farm bill passed.
In the flier, Gebhards said splitting the bill "unnecessarily politicizes the debate, plays into the divide-and-conquer strategy of outside interest groups and exposes crop insurance to further attacks."
As a result, the Illinois Farm Bureau "encourages the House leadership to put their new nutrition bill on the floor right after Labor Day, pass it and move into conference with the Senate as soon as possible."
The Senate has appointed its conference committee members, but the House has yet to select its conferees.
The Illinois Farm Bureau is urging House Speaker John Boehner to appoint U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, to the conference committee. Davis serves on the House agriculture committee.
Gebhards said it won't be a disaster if Congress fails to pass a farm bill by Sept. 30, but it will be a detriment to farmers planning for the future.
"Crop insurance is critical for our producers," he said.
If the crop insurance is unresolved, farmers will have to plan for next year without knowing whether they have the risk management tools they need, he said.
Gebhards was the guest speaker for three "toolshed meetings" hosted Wednesday by the Champaign County Farm Bureau. One was on the Bev Ehler farm near Thomasboro, another was at Parkland College in Champaign, and the third was at the Paul Compton farm near Homer.