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Karl Guenther Column: Farm Bill Back to Square One


U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, staying on the job into the second term of the Obama Presidency says he has much to be proud of, in terms of the accomplishments of his department during his time at the top, but there’s a major disappointment that still bothers him - - It’s the new Farm Bill, which never got past the Senate version, chaired by Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow.  I don’t know what Secretary Vilsack did to move the Senate version along, or if he even tried to persuade the House of Representatives to come up with its own version to be reconciled with the Senate, and signed by the President.  We just know, because he said so, that the Secretary is disappointed.

I should imagine a lot of farmers and ranchers, and certainly to include Michigan farmers are more than a little disappointed.  The new Farm Bill, which is just laying around somewhere gathering dust, presumably will include major changes in what we could call “insurance”.  One kind of insurance, crop subsidy, is in for some spirited debate, as budget choppers try to cut away some of the subsidy of major crops.  Senator Stabenow and her committee did manage to acknowledge Specialty Crop producers,  and that’s a major part of Michigan’s Agriculture Economy which has not, so far, been a part of the Federal Government protection plan dealing with such as warm winter, hard freezes in the spring  in the midst of bud development, to perhaps be followed by drought.  She says she’ll do it again in this Congress.  Sometimes we lose track of the fact that legislation proposed, but not adopted by a Congressional session, dies at the end of that session.  So, the Senate-Approved new Farm Bill has to start all over.

At Kansas State University, Ag Economist Dr Barry Flinchbaugh observes that our problem is not so much an economic crisis -- that, he says, can be handled by economic decisions; the real problem, he contends, is our political crisis.  Crop insurance, Flinchbaugh expects, will be a major issue as the Feds look to cutting of spending.

Along with the new Farm Bill that’s not getting approved, there’s the matter of immigration reform, also not getting approved.  That, too, falls heavily on Michigan Agriculture, again especially so on fruit and vegetable producers.

This year, according to those who keep close track of this kind of thing, vegetable growers will deal with the usual impediments, heat and moisture, and crop diseases and pests.  But, the disaster of 2012 may carry over into labor availability.  Most commercial vegetable crops require some kind of hand labor.  As Michigan Farm Bureau’s Ken Nye puts it, “Because we didn’t really have a fruit crop last year, we may have lost a good deal of our usual labor force.  If those laborers went elsewhere last year, and found greener pastures - - they may not return this year.

The political scenery needs to be inviting of honest laborers.

Karl Guenther is a retired Kalamazoo farm broadcaster and can be reached at khguenther@att.net. He is a member of Michigan Farm Bureau and an emeritus member of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting.