By Benjamin Bullard
The Cullman Times
Farmers from across north Alabama came to Cullman Wednesday to discuss the future of legislation that could affect their fortunes, in the wake of a congressional standoff for competing farm packages that saw passage of a national Farm Bill lapse for the first time since 1949.
Hosted by U.S. Rep Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville), the question-and-answer session brought Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, to Stone Bridge Farms to hear from area farmers awaiting news of how Congress will approach the crafting of a new agricultural package for next year.
Farm bills, which have typically covered five budget years per act, have been massive, omnibus agricultural packages that fund everything from farm subsidies to food stamp and nutrition programs.
Lucas said Tuesday he’s optimistic the current congressional strife over competing House and Senate plans will produce a 2012 bill that benefits farmers who work in a diversity of agricultural fields.
“One of the big issues in a farm bill is making sure that a bill is equitable and fair to all regions, and to all commodity groups,” Lucas said. “The Senate draft of the bill is more of a ‘midwestern’ bill — it’s more of a corn-and-soybean bill. Well, you’ve got corn and soybean farmers in Alabama, but you’ve also got cotton, and you’ve got wheat, and you’ve got livestock — you’ve got a variety of things.
“So, making sure that the House version of the bill allows all regions and all commodity groups to participate is important. Let’s not just have a farm bill for one part of the country; let’s have a farm bill for everybody.”
Alabama Farmers Federation executive director Paul Pinyan agreed, noting the present uncertainty over where Congress will lead agricultural economic policy has left farmers throughout the U.S. wondering how they’ll strategize their operations.
“The farmers are wanting to see certainty,” said Pinyan. “Right now, since the  Farm Bill expired on September 30, folks are planting without any assurances whatsoever. They [Congress] have got to either do something in the lame duck session, or revert back to a 1940s-era farm bill. So you have a lot of farmers who are very concerned about what kind of bill comes out of this session.”
Aderholt agreed. “It gets to the importance of why farmers want this bill passed, and that is because it gives them certainty,” he said.
Lucas emphasized the upheaval American farmers are facing as they await the passage of a new five-year package.
“There’s everything in a farm bill to impact rural America and production agriculture,” he said. “Not having a bill in place makes it more difficult for farmers, and their families, and their bankers, and their suppliers, to make decisions about what direction they need to go.
The near-term fate of farmers represents only part of a renewed farm bill’s significance for Americans, added Lucas.
“Remember: farm bills are, in addition to the commodity title — what many people think of as the corn program, or the cotton program, or the wheat program — they’re also the nutrition program. They cover school lunches, conservation and rural development, agricultural research, farm credit, and so on. Whether you live in rural America, are a farmer, or simply if you eat, it’s important — because it’s a consumer bill, too.”
* Benjamin Bullard can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 734-2131 ext. 270.