On Thursday, the White House Rural Council released a report that "outlines the need for Congressional passage of the farm bill." The farm bill, which first became law in 1973, "addresses agricultural and food policy through a variety of programs, including commodity support, nutrition assistance and conservation" and is passed every five years. However, a simple extension of the 2008 farm bill was signed into law on January 2, 2013, as part of the larger legislative package that was passed in order to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.
While the federal government is debating the farm bill, Ohio is tackling the question of farm runoff and nutrient management. The Ohio Senate recently held its third hearing on Senate Bill 150, which Senators Cliff Hite (R-Findlay) and Bob Peterson (R-Sabina) introduced in June to "grant state agencies new regulatory powers to slow down the spread of toxic blue green algae in Lake Erie," particularly by empowering the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Ohio Department of Agriculture to cite farmers who allow fertilizers to run off their field."
The legislation proposes to revise the law governing the abatement of agricultural pollution; to require a person that applies fertilizer for the purposes of agricultural production to be certified to do so by the Director of Agriculture; to provide for an agricultural pesticide-use category on commercial and private pesticide applicator licenses; and to make other changes to the Agricultural Additives, Lime, and Fertilizer Law. The Senate has been working with interested parties, including the Ohio Farm Bureau and the Ohio Agribusiness Association, to craft the bill in such a way that addresses the algae problems facing Ohio’s bodies of water while protecting agricultural industry in the state. The Senate Agriculture Committee held its third hearing on the bill November 20, and might schedule a vote on the bill soon.
Throughout 2013, Washington has struggled with getting a real farm bill passed before the end of the year. The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have each offered separate farm bill proposals, but to date have failed to reach a deal. The original extension expired after September 30, 2013. Although lawmakers intended to reach an agreement last week, discussions broke down on Thursday "with no real progress and no further face-to-face meetings scheduled before the congressional Thanksgiving recess." Jointly prepared by the U.S. Department of Agriculture with the White House National Economic Council, the Domestic Policy Council, the Council of Economic Advisers and the Office of Management and Budget, the 48-page report –"The Economic Importance of Passing a Comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill" – says that a comprehensive reauthorized farm bill would:
- Build on recent momentum of the U.S. agriculture economy and rising farm income;
- Contribute to a strong rural economy through investments in rural communities and local and regional food systems;
- Support and invest in the bioeconomy;
- Support vulnerable families by protecting our vital food and nutritional assistance programs;
- Encourage wise risk management through a secure and reliable safety net for producers;
- Enhance conservation and provide funding for clean energy; • Promote markets at home and abroad while meeting our global trade commitments; and
- Promote innovation and productivity by supporting key research.
"Food and agriculture is Ohio's top industry, contributing $93.8 billion to Ohio's economy with actual farm gate receipts of $7.2 billion. There are 75,700 farms in the state with the average farm size being 188 acres. Ohio has a total of 14.3 million acres of land in farms." In late October, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) was appointed to the Senate Farm Bill Conference Committee to help finalize a 2013 farm bill. As a member of the committee and also as the "first Ohioan to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in more than 40 years," Senator Brown described passage of a farm bill as "essential to supporting a key industry in Ohio" and said that he is focused on "eliminating direct payments, improving crop insurance and bolstering rural economic development, local food production and biobased manufacturing."