Farm bill extension not 'big splash' locally
In addition to heading off the so-called "fiscal cliff," the eleventh-hour legislation passed by the U.S. Senate on Monday and the House of Representatives in the wee hours of New Year's Day extends federal farm policies through September, averting an estimated doubling of milk prices.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had said Americans could have paid up to $7 for a gallon of milk if the current dairy program lapsed and the government returned to a 1948 formula for calculating milk price supports.
President Obama signed the fiscal-cliff compromise Wednesday.
Federal farm bills generally are for five-year periods. The Senate passed a five-year plan in June but it stalled in the House and never was put up for a vote. The nine-month stopgap measure thus does little to suppress growing uncertainty among farmers and ranchers who are bracing for significant cuts to support programs. The extension keeps many existing farm programs in place, including direct payments and crop insurance, but cuts funding for conservation and energy and doesn't provide money for disaster-relief programs that have already expired.
For Boulder County's small-scale operations, however, "it's not a big splash. I don't see a lot of risk," said Adrian Card, Boulder County-based agriculture extension agent for Colorado State University.
Some local farmers, such as Kristin Lopez, co-owner of Lone Hawk Farms west of Hygiene, have seen little benefit from federal farm subsidies.
"They extend them for big business, but they're not looking forward to some of the new advances in agriculture, especially in Boulder County," said Lopez, who raises vegetables on three or four acres and hay on 40 acres of Lone Hawk's 120-acre tract. "Small-scale organic farms are becoming central to the local food economy. More and more people are thinking it's just as important to eat locally as to eat organically. Those concepts are not part of the farm bill."
Kayann Short, co-owner of Stonebridge Farm between Longmont and Lyons, said she's concerned about continued funding of programs to recruit and educate the next generation of farmers. However, Card said the Colorado Building Farmers program is funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant through 2015, and he's confident of its future despite political squabbling on Capitol Hill.
"Support for that program tends to be quite bipartisan," Card said.
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