North country farmers arent the only ones sweating as they watch their crops bake in the summers heat.
Sweat is now also dripping down the brows of the politicians representing them, who are clambering to approve a federal farm bill that includes programs crucial to farmers in Northern New York before the current bill expires Sept. 30 making their efforts all for naught. But if Republican leaders get what they want, the new five-year plan might not be voted on in the U.S. House of Representatives before that even though it has strong support from both sides of the aisle.
If they choose not to bring it to the floor, it will not come to the floor for a vote, said Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, referring to Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantors reluctance to schedule a vote soon. The Republican leadership doesnt want to see a bipartisan bill passed before the election because they think it would help President Barack Obama.
If the farm bill is blocked, farmers in the north country who rely on insurance programs will be hot under the collar.
While the Senate passed its version of the farm bill in June, the House has a narrow window of time to approve its bill. Mr. Owens contended the bill needs to be approved by Aug. 3 because the House is scheduled to be on its summer recess from Aug. 4 to Sept. 10. Doing so will be crucial, he said, because it would enable a conference committee with leaders from the House and Senate to draft a final farm bill during the recess. That would free up time to get the final bill voted on and signed by the president by the end of September.
Theoretically, Mr. Owens said, passing the bill in the House should be a relatively easy step. The House Agriculture Committee recommended the bill earlier in the month in a strong bipartisan vote, 35-11.
Everyone recognizes that we need to get it out of the House and in the conference committee to get it approved, said Mr. Owens, who joined 79 Democrats and Republicans to sign a letter urging House leaders to put the bill on the calendar before the August recess. Farmers want to see action.
The House bill includes some elements of controversy among farmers, but Mr. Owens said farmers here are mainly receptive to it. It includes some cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or food stamps and a retooled margin insurance program for dairy farms designed to combat low milk prices and high feed costs. Both the House and Senates version of the bill call for the elimination of the current Milk Income Loss Contract insurance program, which provides a safety net by reimbursing farmers when the milk price drops below a federal target.
In contrast with the MILC program, farmers would be able to participate in the insurance program for free. Insurance reimbursements would be calculated based on the difference between farmers feed costs and national milk prices. If the milk price drops $4 per hundredweight below the amount of farmers feed costs, insurance payments would kick in to help them regain some of their losses.
Most dairy farmers in Jefferson County, who will likely see major reductions because of the summers drought, hope the farm bill is approved by the end of September, said Michael B. Kiechle, president of the Jefferson County Farm Bureau. He owns a 400-acre dairy farm in the town of Philadelphia with 120 cattle.
Mr. Kiechle said most farmers are too concerned about saving their crops or products to have time to follow political actions on Capitol Hill. But if they hear the farm bill is blocked by Republican leaders, he said, theyll have another example of politics standing in the way of providing help for farmers.
Republican leaders in the House have thorns under their saddle, and if (our congressmen) cant offer them something to sell that thorn, they have the power to hold it up, he said of the farm bill. I think people will be angry if its held up, but were desensitized because this has happened so much. Because of that, farmers are now more concerned with the fact that it isnt raining.
Mr. Kiechle lauded Mr. Owenss efforts to understand north country farmers concerns and defend them in Washington.
Farmers have made our opinions known to representatives, and now they have to fight the battle for us, he said.
If the bill isnt approved, the new margin insurance program for dairy farmers slated to replace the MILC program wont be approved, said Julie C. Suarez, the public policy director of the New York Farm Bureau. And if the MILC program isnt continued, farmers now in a financial bind might not be able to get help.
The implications are huge because dairy farmers in New York need these crop insurance programs, to say nothing of the dairy margin insurance program, she said. Milk prices are starting to dip, and without a new farm policy its going to be a challenge.
A short-term extension would be granted for most programs, Ms. Suarez said, but it likely would include billions of dollars in cuts.