WASHINGTON (June 30, 2009)—Ideally, implementing rules provide a clear-cut “yes” or “no” for newly passed laws. Not so with the 2008 farm bill’s changes on disaster assistance, payment limitations, and eligibility provisions, which have left farmers with a lot of “maybes”… and a lot of confusion.
Industry groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation (www.fb.org), National Farmers Union (www.nfu.org), National Cotton Council (www.cotton.org), and National Association of Wheat Growers (www.wheatworld.org) took these concerns to Congress June 24. In a hearing before a House Agriculture Subcommittee, the groups requested action and clarification from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on key provisions of the farm bill, which became law in May 2008.
“Farmers find themselves in the middle of an implementation process they don’t fully understand. There are significant uncertainties about many critical aspects of these new rules, but program eligibility and livelihoods hinge on how these important questions are ultimately answered,” Jay Hardwick, a Louisiana cotton producer and chairman of the National Cotton Council, explained to Members of Congress.
Hardwick and other farmers knew there would be difficulty in adjusting to the in the new law, which included steep budget cuts as well as reforms and limits to the farm safety net. But no one knew for sure how the changes would affect their operations until the final details came out.
More than a year after the bill’s passage, growers are still waiting on many of those details, and this waiting game has been especially frustrating to growers who have been slammed by weather disasters.
“Many farmers faced major disasters in 2008,” said Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman. “Disaster assistance rules need to be released so that farmers who have had their operations devastated can receive help.”
Groups testifying also cited frustration over unrealistic definitions of terms such as “farm” and “eligible producer” that, in an attempt to simplify farm policy and the way farmer benefits are administered, have instead introduced new complications and confusion.
“Producers are being expected to make planting decisions absent clarity on the programs,” Erik Younggren, a fourth-generation farmer from Minnesota, testified. “It has been more than a year since the bill was initially passed, and growers are frustrated with the lack of quality information on how or when these programs will be put in place and how they might function for individual operations.”
“A safety net is not a safety net if farmers inadvertently disqualify themselves due to program complexities or lack of information,” added Younggren, who appeared at the hearing on behalf of the National Association of Wheat Growers. “(We) should not be forced to deal with unnecessary uncertainty in addition to the uncertainties already presented by markets, prices and weather.”
The groups asked lawmakers to press for quick resolution of the discrepancies so producers will have straightforward regulations from USDA as they shape their 2010 business plans.
“Overall it is a good law that will benefit family farmers, ranchers, and consumers,” said National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson of the 2008 farm law. “In order for programs contained within the 2008 Farm Bill to be successful, the USDA must implement the provisions as intended by Congress.”
Farm groups are hopeful that the logjam will soon break as key staff positions have been filled at the USDA with personnel who are keenly aware of the need to finalize farm bill regulations.