Drought foils vacation plans for farmers ... but not for Congress

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: August 8 2012 | 8:26 am - Updated: 31 March 2014 | 10:47 pm in
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By Quad-City Times

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Congress surrendered to partisan squabbling again, leaving Washington for a monthlong recess without addressing the problem that has desperate Quad-City ag producers lining up at Farm Service Agency offices.

Staff in those offices won’t be taking August off.

“Oh my gosh. We’ve got folders stacked everywhere,” said Tom Lane, director of the FSA office in Maquoketa. More than 100 producers have come in to seek waivers to allow grazing and baling on conservation acres, environmentally sensitive areas they’re paid not to farm. They now can bale about half the growth on wetland or waterway acres, retrieving low-nutrient fill that helps hungry livestock survive, but with little nutritional value to grow a herd.

“A lot of people are getting pretty desperate for hay,” said Diane Burke, Conservation Reserve Program technician for the FSA in Clinton County.

The next step is culling herds to reduce reliance on expensive feed.

Lane says Jackson County livestock producers, “are doing their due diligence to get herds down to manageable size. It’s going to be tough.”

The rules are complex, and FSA staff must interpret them individually for each producer. And none of this work provides a long-term solution.

That’s the job Congress left behind for its August recess. The Senate approved a five-year farm bill June 21, giving the House a month to follow suit.

A last-minute compromise failed, as did a one-year extension. Rep. Bruce Braley joined with some Republicans to get the farm bill on the agenda over Speaker John Boehner’s objections, but couldn’t garner enough GOP support.

Discussion of a short-term disaster-relief plan also fizzled.

The enormously complex farm bill approved by the Senate includes cuts to food stamp programs, limits on subsidies and an emphasis on more insurance. The atmosphere in Washington and the looming August recess made it impossible to proceed.

Apparently, canceling a planned vacation wasn’t an option for the House. Congressmen return home to campaign and commiserate with constituents about partisan gridlock.

When they visit their ag communities, they won’t find anyone on vacation. They’ll find livestock producers scrambling for feed. They’ll find FSA staff combing through maps and contracts to figure how much grass producers can cull from marginal land to limp through the drought.

Worse, these producers have no idea how to plan for next year. Should they abandon CRP set-asides and plant enough grass to weather another drought? Should they invest in feed to maintain a herd in anticipation of soaring livestock prices?

Will Congress eliminate ethanol provisions that consume a portion of the corn crop?

These questions, and many more, depend entirely on the actions of House members sent on vacation by leadership at a time when American farmers need them most.

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