The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, reported this week that government support of agriculture in its 34-member nations fell last year to an all-time low of 19% of total farm receipts.
According to OECD, support to their producers fell to $252 billion in 2011, but it varied widely. New Zealand producers received the fewest subsidies, which accounted for just 1 percent of farm receipts. U.S. support amounted to 9 percent, while subsidies in Mexico and Canada also were below the OECD average of 20 percent.
At the other end the scale, support to farmers exceeded 50 percent of farm revenue last year in Korea and Japan.
In the United States, where net farm income is expected to rise more than 3 percent to a record-high of $122 billion this year, authorization for many food and farm programs expires in days, Congress is planning a recess to hit the campaign trail.
In June, the Senate Agriculture Committee passed its version of the Farm Bill. The measure went to the floor in short order.
One month later, the House Agriculture Committee passed its version of the $500 billion package and sent it up the line. It was there the bill stalled under the pressure of partisan politics.
While the House measure cuts $23 billion when compared to the current 2008 Farm Bill, political wrangling has brought the 2012 Farm Bill to a screeching halt. The main point of contention is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP formerly known as food stamps. While the current measure cuts $16.4 billion from SNAP some members of the House want to see twice the amount carved out of the program.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has been adamant over the past few weeks that the bill must be passed and sent to the President quickly.
Sec. Tom Vilsack, USDA: “There is no more important piece of legislation that any member of Congress can work on for Rural America for farmers, producers and ranchers than passage of a Farm Bill this month. The credit, the disaster assistance, the export promotion, conservation assistance, rural development component, the energy component, it’s all at risk.”
A coalition of agricultural producer groups, alternative energy promoters and members of Congress known as Farm Bill Now, gathered on Capitol Hill last week calling for passage of the measure.
Bob Stallman, American Farm Bureau Federation:”We are gathered here today with a banner that is adorned with three words, ‘Farm Bill Now.’ We are here to raise our voices to Capitol Hill for a shared purpose. Perhaps never in the history of Farm Legislation have so many diverse groups come together for a common cause to action.”
While the hard expiration date of September 30 looms, there is some wiggle room for Congress. According to officials with the House Agriculture Committee, current law will cover commodity programs for crops harvested in 2012. Crop insurance, Federal Milk Marketing Orders, and most of the larger conservation programs also are permanently authorized. And SNAP would continue without interruption because it is funded through annual appropriations.
The only group feeling any immediate effect will be dairy producers as payments for Milk Income Loss Contracts will be reduced at the end of the month.
The real deadline by which Congress must take action is December 31 of 2012. If a new farm bill is not in place by the New Year, farm programs will be governed by a combination of legislation from the Agriculture Investment Act of 1938 and the Agricultural Act of 1949.
Politics aside the longer Congress, delays the harder it will be for the nation’s farmers and ranchers to plan for 2013.
There was some hope a vote on an extension of the Farm Bill would be considered. However, despite what some are calling a desperate situation, Congress recessed until after the November 6 election without taking any action. Legislators will have almost two months to move on the measure when they return from their six-week recess.