The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s released an informative FAQ-style briefing on the expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill and what it means moving forward. The farm bill expired as of September 30th, after Congress failed to pass a new farm bill or enact a short-term extension of the 2008 bill. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) and federal crop insurance represent a whopping 90 percent of farm bill spending, but both remain unaffected by the expiration since the authority for those programs does not lie within the farm bill itself.

New commodity programs proposed under various versions of the new farm bill will need time to be prepared on an administrative level by the USDA, so if Congress waits until the last minute to get a new farm bill passed, these programs may not be operable for 2013 crops. Numerous innovative and forward-looking programs involved in conservation and rural development have lost their authority to use funding and/or their funding itself, and are not supported by the Continuing Resolution. Disaster assistance is included in a new farm bill, and concentration on passing a farm bill in the November and December session would remove the need to consider outside disaster assistance legislation.

The NSAC sums up the more dyer consequences of no new farm bill as follows:

With the expiration of the farm bill, therefore, beginning farmer training opportunities and minority farmer assistance projects will dry up.  Microloans and training for very small businesses — businesses that drive economic recovery in rural America — will cease.  Emerging farmers markets in rural and urban food deserts will not have access to startup grants.  Organic farming and fruit and vegetable researchers will not be able to compete for any dedicated research funds.  No funds will be on hand to help transition land coming out of CRP into the hands of new young farmers.  Incentives to create a new generation of sustainable biofuels based on perennial crops will stop.  In other words, the programs that directly address rural and urban job creation, renewable energy, and improved production and access to healthy food will be left high and dry.

In order to avoid backward agricultural policies and keep innovative programs alive and well, the 2012 Farm Bill needs to be passed before the end of the year. The victories in the farm bill would go to to waste if the bill isn’t passed promptly. Congress needs to be reminded of the importance of the farm bill when the campaign trail ends! Consider getting involved with the NSAC.

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