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January 3, 2013

Farm bill extension tucked away in 'fiscal cliff' deal

STILLWATER, Okla. — It was a good news, bad news day for Oklahoma’s agricultural producers.

The state’s farmers and ranchers found a nine-month measure of security in Congress’ resolution to the “fiscal cliff” crisis. The cliff deal included a one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill. The bill expired Sept. 30, 2012, and the deal essentially re-authorizes the farm bill until Sept. 30.

The extension means negotiations will begin anew on a five-year farm bill. The plans approved by the House Agriculture Committee and full Senate may be moot. Lawmakers may find it harder to pass a farm bill in 2013 as Congress starts searching for ways to cut costs on March 1.

The agriculture committees in Congress can continue to work on a five-year comprehensive farm bill, U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said. Lucas is chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture.

Lucas was one of 85 Republicans to join 173 Democrats to pass the “American Taxpayer Relief Act” on Tuesday.

The extension keeps many farm programs — including direct payment and crop insurance — intact, Oklahoma State University assistant professor Jody Campiche said. Her specialty is agricultural policy.

The package doesn’t provide money for agricultural disaster relief programs that have expired, Campiche said. Disaster relief is one of about three dozen programs without funding.

Livestock support programs expired Sept. 30, 2011. A provision in the package would restore those programs for 2012 and 2013 if Congress appropriates money to fund them.

“There’s a good chance they will get funded,” she said.

Congress will start looking for spending cuts March 1. Appropriations for livestock support programs as well as funding for a new five-year farm bill will be hard to come by, Campiche said.

“In general theory, it would have been better if the five-year farm bill had been passed by the current Congress,” she said.

Some of the provisions of the 2012 Farm Bill, passed by the Senate and House agriculture committee, but never brought to the full House for a vote, might be incorporated into the replacement bill.

Congress is expected to look deeply into food and nutrition programs to cut spending. It’s stance on strictly agricultural programs is unknown.

So is a timetable for passing a new farm bill, Campiche said.

“It could be early in the year or it could be September,” she said.

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