The 2012 Farm Bill Is No More

Happy New Year, food fans! We're beginning 2013 with a nine-month extension to the 2008 Farm Bill which has passed both houses of Congress and become law, which means that the newly-sworn 113th Congress will have to draft a new farm bill this year. So how did this happen? And what does it mean?

At the eleventh hour of Congressional fiscal cliff negotiations, our old friend the 2012 Farm Bill resurfaced as a legislative bargaining chip. The bill's reemergence owed largely to the imminent "milk cliff" which loomed on January 1, the date by which a new farm bill had to be passed or we'd timewarp it back (legally speaking) to 1949 dairy production costs dictating our 2013 prices. That would have triggered grocery store milk prices for you and me to north of $7 per gallon - a threat prompting new attention to proposals raised in June and July by the Senate and House, respectively.

Over the weekend, Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) drafted new language to add to a proposed extension of the 2008 farm bill to bolster federal disaster aid to farmers suffering effects of the drought and synthesize proposed dairy reforms that had been included in both houses' proposed farm bill language. But when longtime colleagues Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) undertook overall last-minute tax dealmaking, Stabenow's language got lost in the shuffle.

All of which left the members and stakeholders who labored over the bill last year various degrees of frustrated. The extension strips any reforms proposed in the 2012 bill, which mainly benefits Big Dairy and those in favor of direct payments to farmers. It also completely leaves behind certain programs relating to conservation, specialty crops and organic certification. And it means we're starting all over again, needing to find a bill which can garner enough votes to pass in an environment that is more rancorous and harsh on spending proposals than ever before.

In the wake of this resolution (and the end run around his committee's proposal), Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) who is the ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee, had some choice words for his colleagues and fellow party members. "Upset is an understatement," Peterson told POLITICO. "I'm not going to talk with [Hill Democrats and the White House]. I'm done with them for the next four years. They are on their own." Check out other reaction from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and Food & Water Watch who express strong concerns about the "anti-reform" nature of the extension.

What's next? Technically, the new Congress must begin from scratch, perhaps strategizing differently in light of evolving political circumstances, in order to produce a 2013 Farm Bill by September 30. Or else we go through this - again - next fall.