Congress has kicked the can down the road and delivered a kick in the gut to industry lobbyists.
The U.S. House and Senate voted to extend the farm bill for nine months, bringing a disappointing end to efforts by farm lobbyists to enact a new five-year farm bill in 2012.
“We’re disappointed and frustrated,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president for public policy at the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C.
Despite the full Senate and the House Agriculture Committee passing versions of farm bills that were favorable to specialty crop interests, there was never an opportunity for a compromise to be passed.
It is as unfortunate that Congress failed to move forward with a new five-year farm bill that would have included reforms and cost savings, Chuck Conner, president of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, said in a statement.
While lawmakers in the House and Senate provided a framework for what a new farm bill should be, Guenther said the key will be avoiding a political stalemate like the last quarter of 2012.
“We’re hopeful to get it done quickly,” he said.
The extension bill, being sent to President Obama for his signature on Jan. 2, extends the current farm bill passed in 2008 until the end of September. Most, but not all, programs important to the produce industry will continue, Guenther said.
“In all practical purposes most of the programs will continue to move forward that we were focusing on,” he said.
That includes the Market Access Program, specialty crop block grants, the school-based fruit and vegetable snack program and pest and disease exclusion programs.
However, Guenther said the Specialty Crop Research Initiative is among the programs that are authorized but will not receive mandatory funding through the extension unless Congress can be convinced otherwise.
Guenther said the fiscal cliff compromise legislation approved by Congress raises the estate tax from 35% to 40% and the first $5 million is exempt. Other details of that legislation are still being reviewed, he said.
With the last of the business in the lame duck session of the 112th Congress done Jan. 1, the new Congress begins Jan. 3.