2013 has become the year America focuses on its farms.
That's because the federal Farm Bill expires at the end of September and the House and Senate are trying to get a new bill passed.
But getting that done has become one of the great legislative challenges of the year.
The House and Senate have each passed their versions and the differences between the two are big.
For one thing, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has been stripped right out of the House version, while the Senate version calls for cutting about $4 billion from nutrition assistance.
And, what are the differences in the two Farm Bills that really hit home for the farmers of Michigan?
“That SNAP program makes up around 80% of the entire Farm Bill. So when we’re talking about the Farm Bill there’s a lot of discussion on the agricultural component, but a majority of the funding is really for the food stamp or the SNAP program,” said Ryan Findlay, the National Legislative Council at the Michigan Farm Bureau.
The differences between the agricultural programs in the House and Senate versions are minor, according to Findlay. It’s the SNAP component that is causing the problems.
Food assistance has been attached to the Farm Bills since the 1970s. According to David Schweikhardt, a professor at the Michigan State University Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics, there is a practical, political reason for this.
“They could not pass a Farm Bill that had only farm subsidies in it. The rest of society was asking, ‘What’s in it for me?’” said Schweikhardt. “The committee made the judgment at that time, rightly or wrongly, that they were going to put the two together and build a coalition.”
And it doesn't end with agriculture and food assistance. The Farm Bill also has rural development, energy, and environmental programs attached to it.
“One of the benefits of tying all these programs together and asking Congress to review it every five years is that they can make changes as programs evolve,” said Findlay. “When you break it up, a couple of things happen. You don’t have the chance of review, you may not even bring it up; you may lose some programs that are very beneficial because they just won’t make it to the docket for Congress.”
Right now, Congress can either pass an extension on the Farm Bill, they can create a new bill, or they can let the Farm Bill expire. Findlay believes the best option would be to pass a bill that both chambers can agree with, but that is also the most challenging option.
If a solution cannot be reached, the Farm Bill will expire on September 30th.
-Michelle Nelson, Michigan Radio News
Listen to the full interview above.