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Inaction on farm bill is frustrating for NCGA president

By Jean Caspers-Simmet
simmet@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 11/28/2012 8:25 AM

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FLOYD, Iowa — New National Corn Growers Association president Pam Johnson said it is frustrating beyond words that the House of Representatives went home two weeks early to campaign without finishing work on the 2012 farm bill.

"We told them what better story to tell their constituents than how they pulled together to get the (farm) bill passed and when they return to work on the budget and the fiscal cliff and other difficult issues that template for working together would be there," said Johnson in an interview at the kitchen table on her Floyd farm.

Johnson said she was probably naive to think that the bill would be completed before the election when she gave testimony in March to the Senate Agriculture Committee. She watched ag committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow work the floor and get the bill passed in the Senate, and the House Agriculture Committee passed its version of the farm bill.

"Then it hit a brick wall," she said. "I haven't heard a reason yet that made sense to me as to why they didn't get it done. Farmers were home doing their work because they expect members of Congress to do their work, especially with the year we've had with the drought that affected everyone in the country."

Because the 2008 farm bill expired Sept. 30, funding for the Foreign Market Development and the Market Access Development programs ended.

"Next week, we'll meet with Japanese merchandisers who want to purchase U.S. corn," Johnson said. "The U.S. Grains Council is scrambling wondering if they'll have to lay off staff who have worked for years to build relationships in countries across the world. Is there money for people to travel to work on trade issues?"

Farmers don't know what next year's risk management program will be.

"House leadership said they didn't know if the votes were there to pass a bill," Johnson said. "I can't see how postponing it is going to make it any better. We offered our help. We tried everything, and we couldn't get them to listen."

Commodity and farm groups set aside differences to get the farm bill passed.

"We told Congress if we can sit down and compromise, certainly Congress can, too," Johnson said. "They proved us wrong."

The House's one-year farm bill extension and disaster relief bill is a bad idea, Johnson said.

"We need a five-year comprehensive farm bill that takes care of all the problems, not piecemeal plans," she said.

The farm bill that NCGA helped put together had reform in it, Johnson said.

"It took direct payments and put them in areas that help support farmers when they need it most, not every year," she said. "We don't want an extension of the old farm bill. We want to look forward."

Promoting corn ethanol, defending the Renewable Fuels Standard and working on research to build engines that can use more ethanol are other issues Johnson will work on in the coming year. Educating people on why biotech crops are important, moving toward the goal of sustainably producing enough corn for future food and energy needs, building support for ag research and promoting trade are other areas of concern.