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Photo of the Day archive: Whit Haynes
Photo of the Day archive: Whit Haynes

Owens a reluctant "yes" on Farm Bill extension

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Tucked into the fiscal package passed by Congress last night is a nine-month extension of the farm bill. The massive five-year farm bill expired last fall when the House wouldn't vote on a new version passed by the Senate.

This extension includes a safety net for dairy farmers. But it axes many popular programs.

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Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

The White House fact sheet on the big fiscal deal Congress passed has exactly one sentence about the farm bill extension. It says it will avoid the doubling of milk prices that would have kicked in automatically in the absence of any farm bill – a phenomenon that came to be known as the "dairy cliff".

But the extension bears little resemblance to a new reform-aimed farm bill Congress worked on all last year.

It extends the MILC program to protect dairy farmers from low milk prices or high feed prices, but at a lower level.

It continues the $5 billion direct payment to commodity farmers, whether they grow crops or not, a program widely considered wasteful by both the right and the left.

And it cuts many programs farmers consider essential, like disaster relief, conservation, organic, and fruit and vegetable programs.

North Country Congressman Bill Owens says he doesn't like the farm bill extension, but it had to be passed as part of the broader fiscal package.

"When I weigh it, I look at it and I do not like this one-year extension. I think it's abominable the way this whole farm bill issue has been handled. On the other side of it, when you weigh all the consequences of not doing this piece of legislation, I come out in favor of this piece of legislation."

The farm bill extension has already drawn widespread criticism. The National Farmers Union called it "ineffective". The Sustainable Agriculture Coalition called it "blatantly anti-reform".

The idea is that now the new Congress gets more time to make a better farm bill. They'll debate controversial issues, like relying more heavily on crop insurance rather than the direct payment system, and whether to create a program that would control the supply of milk when prices fall.

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