Wed April 11, 2012

Bennet Hopeful on Farm Bill Reauthorization

Despite a polarized Congress, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet says he’s optimistic that the 2012 Farm Bill can be re-authorized before the November election.  The bill allocates billions of dollars for everything from disaster assistance to school nutrition efforts and Bennet has been holding listening sessions with farmers across the state as the Senate committee he sits on is preparing to draft legislation. 

One of those stops was Wednesday at the University of Northern Colorado.

The bill has to be re-authorized every four years, and it’s widely thought a required vote to extend it may not come until the lame-duck Congress meets at the end of the year.

For his part, Senator Bennet, a Democrat who’s not up for re-election, said waiting until then would put Colorado farmers in a bind.

"People say 'well in this political season it’s impossible to get anything done'," Bennet said. "That just shouldn’t be acceptable."

Bennet said he’s hopeful a draft bill will emerge from his committee by the end of May and onto the Senate Floor by summer.

It’s likely the final version of the bill will be a lot leaner than it’s traditionally been.  And it’s also likely that crop insurance programs will replace direct cash subsidies for farmers. 

Sue Jarrett, who drove to the well attended forum from the northeastern Colorado town of Wray, where she runs a small cattle ranch.

"My dream is this little 2,000 acre ranch stays in this family," she told the audience.

A frustrated Jarrett said the Farm Bill has traditionally been skewed to bigger, agri-business style operations  that grow commodity crops in places like northeastern Colorado, not actual food that lands on the dinner plate.

"We talk about the billions we produce in agriculture, but we never talk about the billions it costs and who’s truly making the money off that," Jarrett said. "And are they making the money farming and ranching, or are they making the money off the programs."

Meanwhile, others at the forum stressed the need for more federal money for things such as disaster insurance, and conservation programs that support farmers who decide to let lands go fallow.