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Farm bill delay may not be all bad

Disagreements over the 2012 farm bill involve many aspects of the broader policy discussions in the U.S.

With debate over the looming “fiscal cliff” of automatic budget cuts and tax increases the focus of attention in Washington, an Ohio State University farm policy expert says it might not be all bad that farm bill discussions have been delayed.

Disagreements over the 2012 farm bill involve many aspects of the broader policy discussions in the U.S., said Carl Zulauf, also a professor in Ohio State’s Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics.

Movement on the 2012 farm bill stalled when the Republican-controlled House and Democrat-led Senate disagreed on key farm bill provisions, including the amount of cuts to the food stamps program and the shape of Title 1 farm safety net programs.

In a paper written the day after the 2012 election, Zulauf said that while it is risky to simplify the policy environment in any country as large and diverse as the U.S., much of the debate is about “the components, administration, and funding of a U.S. safety net modernized for the 21st century.”

That debate includes the form and cost of the farm safety net and who should deliver it — private agents, such as crop insurance, or government agencies such as the Farm Service Agency, he said.

“While entirely speculative, it is possible that history may reveal that the 2012 farm bill ultimately served to inform the resolution of the policy issues surrounding the broader U.S. safety net for the 21st century,” Zulauf said.

While there are numerous paths for the farm bill debate, the two most discussed are a short-term extension of the 2008 farm bill, ranging from several months to a year, or passage of a compromise version of the existing House and Senate drafts of the 2012 farm bill.

“Which path is taken will depend upon the debate over the broader policy direction,” he said.

“The willingness to compromise on differences in the existing farm bill drafts, and assessments of the impacts of potential changes in the budget baseline and how changes in the membership of the House and Senate with the seating of a new Congress might impact the process of passing a farm bill next year.”

Zulauf also speculated that the drought of 2012, which continues to devastate farmers across the country, will lead to ad hoc disaster assistance to help livestock producers deal with much higher feed prices.

“It is likely that cuts in spending on farm programs are likely in any so-called grand agreement to address the fiscal cliff,” he said. “These cuts might exceed those agreed to in the farm bill, or the farm bill might be written to accommodate the size of these cuts.

“In short, the debate over the farm bill is intertwined with the debate over the fiscal cliff.”

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