Impact of the Failed Federal Farm Bill in Shenandoah Valley
Congress failed to pass a new version of the $500-billion farm bill, which covers everything from crop subsidies to food stamps. But the impasse should have little impact on Virginia farms, as long as lawmakers take action before the end of the year.
Although the 2008 farm bill expired at the end of September, many vital programs - like crop insurance and loans for first-time farmers - survive through continuing resolution. But other help for farmers, such as conservation funding and crop subsidies, is on hold.
Shenandoah Valley agriculture - heavy in beef cattle, dairy and poultry - won't see the dramatic impact that may hit the Midwest, where drought has taken its toll on many crops.
"It is a protection for those people that grow the crops and things, because they won't be at a total loss," said Michael Shull, a Raphine farmer. "That is one of the big helps that's in it."
The expiration of the federal farm bill will put a freeze on the financial help that Virginia farmers get for soil and water projects that protect the Chesapeake Bay.
Virginia Cooperative Extension agent Tom Stanley said, "Technical assistance is still available from Natural Resource Conservation Service, but as far as the cost-share programs that help put conservation on the ground, those are on hold until the federal government takes some action."
The extension service says there certainly is motivation for Congress to move on a new five-year farm bill. If there's no agreement by January 1, decades-old legislation could kick in.
"It reverts back to a subsidy program that when adjusted for inflation, and it will be adjusted for inflation, it would cost the government phenomenal amounts of money in terms of the subsidies that would have to go out to farmers," said Stanley.
Like many Shenandoah Valley farmers, Shull runs his beef operation without subsidies or other federal aid. But he understands how many farms need the help.
"Farming the way it's been in the last few years, with the insurance, fertilizer prices, fuel prices, everything that costs...it's hard to make ends meet and make a living off the farm," Shull said.
Congressman Bob Goodlatte, who is vice-chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, blames the expiration mostly on disagreements over funding for nutritional programs. He's confident the 2012 farm bill will be approved before the end of the year.
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