Far-right conservatives have already forced several spending bills into another possible government shutdown over the winter, making it necessary for the Farm Bill to go unaddressed until next fall.
If there is a government shutdown in January or February, it will be because House Republicans can’t reach agreement with Senate Democrats and President Joe Biden on a long list of spending bills—but the Farm Bill won’t be among them.
By extending the current package of farm, trade, nutrition, and conservation programs until September 2024, the Farm Bill stays out of the current morass, but farm and consumer advocates also say it’s a missed opportunity to address an out-of-balance market that drives farm prices down and consumer prices up while raising profits for corporations in the middle.
The Farm Bill is made up of around 20 different programs that provide crop subsidies, insurance against natural disasters, and programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that feed people in low income families.
With spending kept stable, farmers can have some certainty as they plan next spring’s crops. The subsidies keep farm families afloat when market prices would otherwise be too low to live on. Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden told UpNorthNews Radio more needs to be done to reduce the reliance on subsidies because it insulates consumers from seeing how much of their food dollar goes to non-farm activities like processing, transportation, storage, marketing, and market speculation.
“Looking at the subsidies programs, we’re continuing to take more and more dollars that are direct payments from the federal government versus getting those dollars from the consumer,” Von Ruden said. “We’d like to see something where the farmer and consumer have a little more direct contact. There’s more dollars that are going to the middleman. Meanwhile the farmers are getting less and the consumer continues to pay more.”
Split control of Congress, however, makes it just as likely that the eventual rewriting of the Farm Bill—something normally done every five years—could make conditions worse instead of better. Far-right Republicans were already demanding $50 billion in cuts from conservation programs in an earlier threat to force a government shutdown. At that time, Von Ruden called out Republican US Rep. Derrick Van Orden, Wisconsin’s only member on the House Agriculture Committee, for not speaking out against the cuts or on behalf of ways to rein in corporate monopoly powers that lead to lower prices for farmers and higher prices for consumers.
“Wisconsin’s farmers need a champion more than ever,” Von Ruden wrote in an October CapTimes opinion column. “But so far Van Orden has failed to deliver anything other than empty slogans.”
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