Unfortunately, the nation's five-year farm bill expired on Sept. 30 because House Republican leaders failed to bring a new bill to the House floor for a vote.
It is not too late, however.
The Senate passed a bipartisan five-year farm bill through 2017 on a 64-35 vote in June. And there is bipartisan support on the House Agriculture Committee for a new five-year bill.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the four leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees met on Thursday. All agreed that Congress should pass a five-year farm bill by Dec. 31.
Some Republicans, however, have suggested a yearlong extension of the old farm bill. But that makes no sense when Congress and the president are looking for ways to cut the deficit. Extending the 2008 law would not garner savings. That's a nonstarter.
Passing a bipartisan farm bill that reduces the deficit by $23 billion – as the Senate bill would do – would help in any deal to avert the looming "fiscal cliff."
Doing nothing is not a realistic option. While funding for some programs already has come to an end – such as new enrollment of acreage in the conservation reserve program – the real problem comes when policies from the 1930s and 1940s kick in starting Dec. 31.
As House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas told Progressive Farmer magazine, "Reverting back to an antiquated system that is permanent law is not responsible and not acceptable."
The first big change is that U.S. dairy policy reverts to 1949. As the nation's leading dairy state – No. 1 in production of fluid milk, butter and nonfat dry milk, No. 2 in cheese production – we have a big stake in this. Expiration of key dairy programs comes at a time when dairy farms everywhere, including California, are reeling from the nation's drought, which has driven up feed prices. In California, some farmers can't afford to feed their cows.
Then comes wheat policy and so on.
Above all, farmers need certainty and stability. The lame duck session of Congress needs to approve the farm bill.
Outgoing Rep. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino, who serves on the House Agriculture Committee, should make the farm bill his swan song before he leaves office. From a district hit hard by unemployment, he knows the value of food stamps in keeping families out of poverty. He's been a fighter against draconian cuts to the food stamp program, calling proposed House Republican cuts of $16 billion "unacceptable."
Baca's aim should be to get food stamp cuts in line with Senate levels of $4 billion.
And Californians should contact one of California's own, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, and urge him to persuade Speaker John Boehner to bring the already passed Senate farm bill (S. 3240) to the House floor for an up or down vote.
If the Senate bill passes in the House, everything's good. If it doesn't, then Democrats and Republicans will need to negotiate in earnest to get a new five-year farm bill done by year's end.
"Do it for five years and go home," he told The Bee's editorial board. "Why fight it more times than you need to?" Why, indeed? The 28-day count to year's end begins.