Oklahoma Farmers ‘Sowing On Faith’ After Farm Bill Expires
Federal lawmakers failed to pass a new farm bill by the September 30 deadline. Though key programs like crop insurance won’t be affected, funding for others will stop at the end of the year unless a compromise is reached.
“Some of these other smaller programs are vitally important to farmers,” noted Jimmy Kinder, a wheat and cattle farmer in Walters, Oklahoma. “You need to have a healthy research pipeline to make sure that you stay current.”
The omnibus farm bill funds hundreds of billions of dollars of food-related programs, from grants for conservation efforts to price supports for specific crops. It’s not the first time the bill has expired without a new one to replace it, but Kinder says it increases unpredictability for farmers who are already struggling.
“This layers on top of the tariffs that are going on with a lot of the ag commodities, so it just adds to all the uncertainty that we have out here on the farm,” Kinder said.
In addition to tense relations with the United States’ top trading partners, Oklahoma farmers are also facing low commodity prices. And the farm bill’s expiration comes on the heels of a poor wheat harvest. Yield was down 50 percent in 2018, according to the Oklahoma Wheat Commission.
Lawmakers formed a conference committee in August to resolve differences in the House and Senate versions of the bill. The main sticking point seems to be new work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as “food stamps.” Those were rejected by the Senate, which passed its version in a bipartisan vote of of 86-11. The House version passed 213-211 without support from Democrats.
“I think reform is a good thing, but I can't sacrifice the whole farm bill over food stamp language,” Rep. Frank Lucas, R-OK, said in June. He sits on the committee.
President Trump reiterated his support for the work requirements just ahead of the committee’s first meeting in September by tweeting, “Pass the Farm Bill with SNAP work requirements!”
Now the committee has until mid-December to pass a new farm bill, or extend the current one. Otherwise, some programs will stop entirely, while others will revert to outdated, decades-old law. Meanwhile, Kinder is busy planting wheat to be harvested in the spring of 2019.
“We are sowing on faith that the Congress will get their act together,” he said.