Turn Away From Current Fiscal Cliff and Farm Bill Discussions

December 12, 2012 12:55 AM
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via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Don't focus on negative comments because they mean nothing but posturing

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

Here are words you won't likely read or hear too many other places: Don't read or listen to anything about the farm bill or fiscal cliff issues until later this month and maybe not until after Christmas, but before year's end. That is because it may take that long for serious discussions by sometimes not-so-serious “players” to get to the nitty gritty of the issues at hand.

Fiscal cliff package is most important. Offers, counteroffers are being made, but they have been baby steps. Needed are grownup steps with detailed offers. President Obama is still in campaign mode and almost overreaching, while Republican leaders are mostly posturing.

Fiscal cliff timeline is farm bill timeline. Farm bill players can't really get going in earnest until after they know how much spending “cuts” they will be asked to make, and what timeline they will have to accomplish that.

Upbeat last week, downbeat this week. The latest “news” comes from House Ag Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) in a story on Politico, a political news site. Lucas has turned somewhat negative on farm bill issues and a timeline. But this is the typical Washington game of upbeat, then downbeat, ahead of a deadline.

Later rather than sooner. As noted, farm bill talks are closely tied to the fiscal cliff issues, and those will not take real focus until later. So farm-state lawmakers should turn mostly silent in their commentary to the press and urge their “leaders” to lead and give them the parameters they need.

Meanwhile, talk about US farm policy reverting to 1949 permanent legislation is another scare tactic designed to give farm-state lawmakers leverage to get a new farm bill completed. Well, the threat of sky-high milk prices if the permanent legislation would actually be implemented (very unlikely) in 2013 is at hand. Now it's time for those farm-state lawmakers to use any such leverage. Dairy and milk producers better hope those sky-high “support” prices don't take effect because consumers will do what they must do – seek alternatives. This is the silly fiscal cliff for farm policy.

Another topic that needs to past the truth test: the need for an extension/transition of some/all 2008 Farm Bill programs for one year. Why? Even if the anemic leaders in Washington finally start leading and reach a fiscal cliff and related farm bill deal, it will take several steps and time to implement those agreements. And it will give USDA the time they need to do a far better job of implementing new farm programs when they take effect. This includes public rulemaking because history shows USDA doesn't always get it right in implementing what they think Congress has legislated. Thus the need for industry stakeholders to present their views because they have to live with them, not some farm-state lawmaker or USDA employee sitting at a desk in Washington.

Another reason why there should be time to implement a new farm bill is to allow farmers to educate themselves, with the help of private industry and extension personnel regarding the various safety net options that will result from a new farm bill. And from a farmer perspective, and something that very few people in Washington do not apparently realize, is that farmers need to mesh their crop insurance options with whatever new safety net options are made available. And that takes time, unless the hurry-up lobbyists and lawmakers in Washington just want a new farm bill without much care to implementation issues. That has been the case too many times in the past.

So, to repeat: The good cop, bad cop, upbeat, downbeat scenario of fiscal cliff and farm bill talks are just that – talk and posturing. You have far more important things to concern yourselves with. Take another look at these issues when there are real offers and counteroffers made on fiscal cliff issues. Christmas may be near or over before that real timeline arrives.

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.


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