The "fiscal cliff" bill jammed through Congress at the end of the year turned the rural world upside down. It subsidized the rich and starved the poor. We have one more chance to fix it.
The farm bill extension passed in the large budget deal at the end of the year wasn’t a good deal for rural America. It slashes investment in the future of rural communities and family farming and ranching.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and House Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) had negotiated a far better farm bill extension earlier in the year.
It included funding for many smaller, targeted programs that invest in proven strategies to create rural jobs and revitalize rural communities. It also contained initiatives to foster a new generation of family farmers and ranchers.
But the final “fiscal cliff” deal negotiated by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Vice President Joe Biden stripped that funding.
McConnell used the funds instead to restore a three percent cut in the direct farm payments – the payments made each year, irrespective of farm prices.
To be specific, the final bill stripped funding from:
• The Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, which funds loans and business planning assistance to rural businesses with up to ten employees;
• The Value Added Producers Grants program, which funds establishment of value added marketing and processing enterprises;
• The Beginning Farmer & Rancher Development Program, which makes grants for programs that train beginning farmers and link them with retiring farmers;
• The Conservation Reserve Program Transition Incentives Program, which rewards land owners for renting land coming back into production to beginning farmers and ranchers;
• The Farmers Market Promotion Program, which makes grants for direct farmer-to-consumer marketing;
• Organic farming research and extension programs and organic certification costs share; and
• The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which provides assistance to farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses to install renewable energy systems and make energy efficiency improvements.
As a result of the deal struck between the Congress and the White House, each of these programs will be without funding over the next nine months. The eleventh hour deal also prevents farmers and ranchers from being able to protect water quality and conserve soil by enrolling in the Conservation Stewardship Program in 2013.
Not everyone was hurt in the deal. Despite high market prices, virtually unlimited commodity and crop insurance premium subsidies to mega farms remain uncapped.
The end result of the deal is a world turned upside down: The rich and powerful are over subsidized while Congress under invests in the future of rural America and family farming and ranching. Rural communities, beginning farmers and microenterprise are left twisting in the wind. And conservation of our precious land and water gets put on hold.
The good news is that we will get a shot at fixing this disaster in coming months. We will need everyone engaged to get Washington back on track and investments in our rural future restored.
Chuck Hassebrook is Executive Director of the Center for Rural Affairs of Lyons, NE – www. cfra.org.