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Farmers Union, AFT criticize lack of farm bill

The National Famers Union and the American Farmland Trust today called the unwillingness of Congress to finish a farm bill this year a lost opportunity.

“National Farmers Union, echoing the voices of most family farmers and ranchers across the country, is deeply disappointed in the dysfunction of Congress,” NFU President Roger Johnson said in a news release. “The members’ inaction leaves significant uncertainty for farmers and ranchers trying to plan for the 2013 planting season without knowing the coming year’s policies.”

“Congress has failed to deal with many important issues in the last year and session,” Johnson added. “America’s farmers and ranchers have spoken time and time again — we want a new five-year farm bill in 2012. Clearly, House leaders have not been listening.”

“If Congress must reluctantly pass an extension, they should do so by fully extending all 2008 programs, such as the disaster, energy and beginning farmers and ranchers programs,” he added.

American Farmland Trust President Jon Scholl also lay blame on Capitol Hill.

“We believe that Congress missed the perfect opportunity to sew up a long-term, well-balanced farm bill that gives farmers the certainty they need to plan for the future, install sound farm program reforms and assure a fair sharing of the necessary budget sacrifices,” Scholl said.

The short-term extension of current law sets the stage for a difficult farm bill process in the next Congress, he said.

“Not only will committees have to rewrite the farm bill, but we anticipate an even greater budgetary challenge when the Congressional Budget Office releases new baseline numbers in March,” Scholl said. “In any event, we strongly urge that farm and ranch land conservation program funding be protected.”

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition reiterated its support for an extension.

“We hope the nine-month extension goes through today or tomorrow without anymore drama,” said NSAC policy director Ferd Hoefner.

“We hope it includes simple fix that will allow NRCS [Natural Resources Conservation Service] to move forward with 2013 sign-up for CSP [Conservation Stewardship Program],” Hoefner said. “With respect to dairy, we trust they can work something out — either the new program or one year more of MILC in its pre-September form. It is time to get off the dime and get extension done.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that agreement had been reached on the tax issues on the fiscal cliff bill. That would include letting taxes rise on income of more than $450,000 a year for a couple, and on more than $400,000 a year for individuals.

The tax on inherited estates would rise from 35 percent to 40 percent, though Democrats agreed to keep in place the current exemption for estates worth up to $5 million. And nearly 30 million households would be protected from paying the costly alternative minimum tax for the first time — either on their 2012 tax returns or at any time in the future. The developing agreement calls for a permanent fix.

The two sides also appeared to have reached consensus on unemployment benefits, with Republicans acceding to Democratic demands to keep benefits flowing to the long-term unemployed for another year. Medicare payments would not be cut for doctors next year, and the cost of preserving those programs would not be offset with other spending cuts.