MARIETTA - The expiration of the Farm Bill over the weekend could create problems for some local farmers who rely on programs funded through the federal legislation to help keep their farm businesses running.
Every five years, Congress passes a bundle of legislation, commonly called the Farm Bill, that sets national agriculture, nutrition, conservation and forestry policy, according to the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture's website.
"We're OK for the past season, but it is a concern for the coming year," said Meade Huck, fifth-generation owner of Huck's Produce Farm in Waterford Township.
He said crop insurance, one of several subsidy programs funded through the Farm Bill, is always required by his lenders.
"We carry insurance on every crop we grow," Huck said, noting that the insurance helps cover losses that may occur due to drought conditions or other crop disasters.
Without a federal crop insurance program, farmers would have to obtain the coverage elsewhere.
By The Numbers
Where U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Bill funding was spent (2010):
* $62.9 billion - food stamps.
* $6.4 billion - commodities.
* $4.5 billion - conservation.
* $5.7 billion - crop insurance.
* $387 million - energy.
* $305 million - exports.
"The portion of the premium the federal ag department pays is a big help," Huck added. "And it would make it tough if we had to go to a private insurer."
The last Farm Bill was passed in 2008, and expired Sunday at the end of the federal fiscal year. The Senate has passed its version of the new bill, but the House of Representatives has put off a vote on its version until after the November election.
"The House ag committee has passed a version of the bill, but it didn't get to the floor," said Yvonne Lesicko, senior director of legislative and regulatory policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau.
She said the House bill has been to the floor for a full vote, then into a conference committee where it will be reconciled with the Senate version. Lesicko expects the final bill will be somewhat different from the legislation that just expired.
"But Congress must get this bill passed. Farm Bill programs are expiring, but this also affects farmers' planning as they won't know what programs are going to be available until a new bill is passed," Lesicko added.
Doug Miller, director of the local Farm Service Administration office that administers programs under the Farm Bill in Washington County, agreed.
"Many programs authorized under the bill expired Sept. 30, but eligible farms will still receive payments from programs they signed up for through that date," said Miller. Miller said his office deals with more than 200 farmers and other producers throughout the county.
"But we're not authorized to continue most programs after the beginning of the 2013 fiscal year that started Oct. 1," he said. "Until we get a new Farm Bill passed we can't continue to make most insurance payments and farmers can't sign up for 2013 programs."
Ohio Sixth District U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, in an emailed statement Wednesday, expressed disappointment the bill wasn't acted on prior to last month's recess.
"Having grown up on a farm, I know how important certainty is to farmers. That's why I was disappointed that a farm bill wasn't brought to the House floor before Congress adjourned last month," he said. "It is important that America has a clear and stable agriculture policy that farmers can rely on into the future.
"What we should not be doing is passing a farm bill in which 80 percent of the funding is spent on unrelated programs," Johnson added. "I want a farm bill that actually works for farmers."
Earl Schaad, 86, established Schaad's Dairy Farm, Inc., in 1968. The business has received subsidies through a Farm Bill dairy program, but Schaad, whose sons now operate the dairy farm, isn't a big supporter of the government getting into the farming business.
Schaad said he lived through the years just after the Great Depression, when the Farm Bill first came into being.
"The Farm Bill is sort of like a minimum wage program for farmers," he said. "We can't and shouldn't be dependent on it, and it's gotten way out of hand. I think it's become a real social issue."