Farm Bill matters to Mid-Missourians

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BOONE COUNTY - As legislators debated the 2013 version of the Farm Bill in Washington, some Mid-Missouri farmers worried about the future of government subsidies.

An extension to the 2008 Farm Bill expires in September.

Eighty percent of the funding from the 2008 extension goes toward the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp program. Twenty percent goes toward agriculture subsidies.

The U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate both passed versions of a possible new Farm Bill in recent weeks. The House version does not include provisions for SNAP. Differences between it and a Senate version were referred to a conference committee.

Both versions decrease funding for direct payments and increase funding for crop insurance.

Deanna Crocker and her husband own a small farm just south of Centralia where they raise pigs, corn, beans and other crops. She said although farmers only receive 20 percent of the farm bill, those funds are important to both farmers and consumers.

The payments, which totaled $47 billion between 2002 and 2011, have accounted for between 21 and 45 percent of total farm-program payments in recent years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, covering various crops produced across the country.

Crocker said direct payments are vital to small U.S. farms because they "equalize the playing field" with foreign food distributors. Crocker added that tax money that helps farmers, like that in the Farm Bill, also affects consumers.

"Not only does it affect their food prices, but it affects the economy tremendously as a whole. So, the taxes go in partly toward the Farm Bill and all, but your food's gonna be a lot higher if you don't support it with taxes," Crocker said.

Garrett Hawkins, National Legislative Programs Director for the Missouri Farm Bureau, said that while the new Farm Bill may lack direct payments, it could help farmers in other ways.

"When the Farm Bill was extended in January, Congress reauthorized the livestock programs, but no funding was made available. The new Farm Bill would change that and so livestock producers would have a chance, perhaps, to go back and if they had experienced losses, those losses may be covered," Hawkins said.

With or without direct payments, both Crocker and Hawkins agree that passing a new farm bill is important.

"What people need to realize is that debt goes toward production and their food costs and stimulating the economy in many, many ways. Agriculture is a basis for a lot of industries," Crocker said.

"For the benefit of agriculture and for many others the benefit from the Farm Bill, it's in our best interest to write a new bill rather than extend just like we did in January," Hawkins said.