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Missouri farmers in limbo with Congress stalled on farm bill

Crops growing in an open field as the sun shines past the trees
Dylan de Jonge
Farmers could pass on higher prices to consumers if Congress misses that Jan. 1 deadline, according to Darrick Steen, director of public policy at the Missouri Corn Growers Association.

JEFFERSON CITY − As the U.S. House of Representatives drags closer to its third week without a speaker, the nation's business has come to a screeching halt. Along with aid to Israel and Ukraine, Congress is unable to move on the farm bill, a massive piece of legislation critical to securing the nation's food supply.

It covers everything from SNAP benefits for low-income families to insurance for farmers. The bill is a road map for the web of federal agencies that support Missouri farmers, according to Joe Aull, state executive director the Federal Farm Service Agency (FSA) in Missouri.

As the House struggles to chose a speaker, Missouri farmers are combating drought and inflation.

The Missouri FSA distributed over $130 million in drought relief to tens of thousands of cattle farmers across the state in 2022, according to Aull.

Farmers across the state are in the midst of a drought. Almost all of Cooper County, and parts of Boone, Cole, Moniteau and Howard counties are suffering extreme drought.

That brings "major" crop losses and water shortages, according to the National Weather Service drought classification. This year, Missouri's corn harvest is expected to drop between 20% to 30%, according to Darrick Steen, director of public policy at the Missouri Corn Growers Association.

The farm bill creates a crucial safety net for farmers dealing crop losses. A record $19.1 billion in crop insurance was paid out in 2022.

If Congress can't pass the farm bill by the end of the year, Missouri commodity farmers could face a "worst case scenario," Steen said. That's when safety-net programs like crop insurance could be impacted.

That insurance is essential for farmers, according to Theadore Weter, a retired farmer living in Ashland. Weter owned a farm in Milan, Missouri, where he raised livestock and grew crops.

Weter sold the farm in 1977, but his son and grandson now operate their own farm in Milan.

"Without insurance you couldn't even farm," Weter said. "Because whenever you go buy your fertilizer, and seed, chemicals, all that, if you ain't got insurance or a lot of money, you ain't gonna get it back."

Subsidies allow farmers to keep grocery store shelves stocked, even if the cost of production rises. Although production costs haven't exceeded farmers income, Steen said market forecasts predict that it could over the next few years.

Dairy producers will be immediately impacted if Congress misses its January 2024 deadline, Steen said. Commodities like soybeans, which Missouri produced more than $2 billion worth of in 2019, would be next.

"You're asking for a lot of trouble, both in the farm economy, but as well as just in the food supply," Steen said. "What impacts farmers, also impacts the affordability and the stability of our food supply."

Farmers could pass on higher prices to consumers if Congress misses that Jan. 1 deadline, Steen said.

"We're already seeing escalated prices on everything," Steen said. "We don't need to hit that at the grocery store again."

"I can't think of anything that's more important"

Congress was supposed to pass the farm bill by Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year, Aull said. The delay is already having an immediate impact on federal services. Certain programs like conservation have already lost funding and will sit idle until a new bill is passed, Steen said.

"People will say to me, FSA can you do this, can you do that?" Aull said. "I say we have the latitude to be a little flexible, and make a few adjustments, but pretty well we've got to follow what's in the farm bill."

Steen said he doesn't expect big differences between the new farm bill and the 2018 bill. But he hopes Congress will double funding for market development programs, which helps farmers reach foreign markets.

Missouri exported billions of dollars of agriculture products overseas in 2019, according to the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

Ultimately, the farm bill was designed to protect the nation's food supply, Aull said. It was born in the wave of New Deal legislation passed by President Franklin Roosevelt to lift the United States out of the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Aull said he hopes Congress will pass a new farm bill soon. But an extension of the 2018 bill would also work.

"I can't think of anything that's more important in our country, then to have an adequate supply of good, nutritious, healthy food," Aull said.

To report an error or typo, email news@komu.com.

KOMU 8 is a full-powered NBC affiliate operating as an independent commercial property. As such, KOMU 8 is the only major network affiliate in the United States that acts as a university-owned commercial television station utilizing its newsroom as a working lab for students.
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