Roundup: Farm Bill Vote Delayed into 2014

Congress will likely adjourn without a new farm bill • USDA will make loans for expanding mental health and addiction facilities • Worker and consumer safety concerns grow over “fast-track” meat inspections • TV ads perpetuate rural misinformation.

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Dairy farmer Randy Lewis of Alamance County, North Carolina, hopes to preserve his farm – and the barn dance his family has helped produce for nearly five decades.  Filmmaker Ted Richardson and Jason Arthurs are documenting Lewis’ work and play in the film “The Last Barn Dance.” Learn more here.

Farm Bill – Another Holiday Passes without One. Congress will adjourn for the holidays without passing a farm bill, reports Politico. Negotiators say they are optimistic on reaching a deal between House and Senate versions of the ag bill in January.

If this sounds familiar, we’ve heard a similar statement going all the way back to Independence Day. Congress has been trying (and failing) to pass a new farm bill since June.

Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) downplays concerns that delaying passage until after the New Year will create turmoil in milk prices, David Rogers reports:

The one constant is a continued fear of disruptions in the milk markets if there is no extension and the current dairy program is allowed to expire at New Year’s. But Stabenow said that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had assured the negotiators — in a phone call Tuesday — that there would be no reason for milk prices to spike if a farm bill can be put in place quickly in January. And that would be her goal.

Previously the sticking point in a new farm bill has been the House’s proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). But Rogers reports now that the conversation has shifted to technical considerations in the crop insurance program.

The Fargo Post reports that House and Senate negotiators have reached an agreement on SNAP cuts. U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota) says the cuts are closer to the Senate’s proposed $4 billion level than the House’s $40 billion in proposed cuts. He didn’t give a specific number. But Peterson said the cuts will still be a sticking point when the compromise legislation goes up for a vote in both chambers.

Loans for Rural Mental Health Facilities. USDA will make $50 million in loans available to rural health clinics that want to expand mental health services, Vice President Joe Biden announced yesterday.

Another $50 million from U.S. Health and Human Services will go to community health centers to expand treatment for people with mental health and addiction problems.

The White House announcement coincides with the first anniversary of the school shootings inflicted by a mentally disturbed person in Newtown, Connecticut.

Concerns over Meat Inspection Program. Changes in USDA inspections have resulted in dramatic increases in U.S. meat production. They’ve also resulted in concerns about safety for workers and the food Americans eat, say labor and consumer groups.

Bloomberg Business looks at rules that cut the number of USDA inspections in selected meat plants and allowed those plants to crank up production. The Hormel Foods plant in Fremont, Nebraska, for example, slaughters 1,300 hogs an hour.

Workers’ rights advocates say the plants are operating “dangerously fast.” And a USDA report says that three of the five meat plants that have been allowed faster production under the rules rank among the worst violators of food-safety requirements.

Farmers Who Can’t Spell.  A spate of TV commercials featuring bad spelling shows how out of touch mainstream culture is with rural life, writes Forrest Pritchard in Huffington Post:

As a farmer, it doesn’t especially bother me that the [parachuting] cows in [Chick-fil-A] ads are holsteins, a dairy breed and not beef. More confounding is that while these cows can spell, they can only spell very badly — tacitly perpetuating a stereotype of agricultural illiteracy. And it’s not even that irksome to see Old McDonald, our country’s de facto agricultural mascot, portrayed as a lovable imbecile. The commercial itself is funny, and most farmers don’t mind a little self-deprecating humor from time to time.

But what is worrisome is these commercials are the only glimpse into farming that millions of people will ever see. For a generation that’s never raised a flock of chickens or planted a row of potatoes, much less visited a working farm, how much of a stretch is it to assume that birds are now raised without bones, or that farmers flunked first grade?

 

 

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