The U.S. House and Senate have both passed versions of a new farm bill. A house-senate conference committee is trying to hammer out the differences to come up with a final bill.
Georgia farmers begin to prepare land for planting despite unfinished farm bill.
Observers say much of the delay has centered around the cost of the Senate bill. The Congressional Budget Office underestimated this bill by $6.3 billion. The conference committee had to find ways to trim the cost.
The committee did this, though, and agreed on a funding framework for the bill before the Easter break.
So when they pick it back up April 9, they can tackle "in earnest" some of the differences in provisions, said Don Shurley, an Extension Service economist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
However, it's still unclear whether a new farm bill will be passed before farmers begin planting their crops. The current farm bill still has one more year. It would cover this growing season if no new farm bill is passed.
So farmers don't know if they should decide what or how much to grow this year on the old farm bill or on the new, unfinished one. They're cutting it close.
Tough on Georgia
This is particularly tough for Georgia farmers, who plant their biggest crops mainly in May. Because of the climate, Georgia farmers can plant earlier than many U.S. farmers.
"Also, unlike, say, Midwest farmers, this new farm bill has some critical issues unique to Southern growers," Shurley said.
Georgia farmers depend greatly on cotton and peanuts, two crops sensitive to the final wording in the new farm bill.
Because a new farm bill is bound to be passed sooner or later, it would be better to get one passed for this season, said UGA Extension Service peanut economist Nathan Smith. It would help some peanut farmers economically.
A new farm bill this year would be better for Georgia cotton farmers, too. It could mean a difference of as much as 10 cents per pound in program payments -- a considerable amount, Shurley said.
House and senate versions differ on payment limitations for farmers, conservation payments and the establishment or updating of base acres, or the average number of yield and acres of a particular crop grown on a farm. Subsidies and payments are based on this number.
After a bill is passed, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture will then have to write regulations to implement it. USDA is reportedly already preparing these regulations to put the bill into practice as soon as possible.
(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)