I was driving back from the 2013 Farm Progress Hay Expo when I heard the news that the House dumped the farm bill. Heard over National Public Radio that Collin Peterson, D-Minn., thought some votes went against the bill because members felt it would fail anyway due to a couple of add-ons during floor deliberations.
No matter what's happening, it's a sign of a big change in the structure of support for agriculture. Farmers already gave up direct payments - in both the Senate and House versions. Of course, the stumbling block is nutrition programs that were lumped into the farm bill years ago to keep things relevant. Now it feels that relevancy may be a challenge.
I've heard at big commodity group meetings there's talk of separating out the farm part of the farm bill - about 20% of total spending - and getting a vote on that. This would allow Republicans and Democrats to wrangle over the cost and administration of nutrition programs in a separate way. Others, however, disagree with this approach.
The new farm bill had provisions for fresh fruits and more specialty crops than ever before - answering a lot of critics who claimed that past bills supported commodity producers at the expense of the American diet. I'm not entering that debate here.
However, I'm concerned about the ripples this kind of Congress-inflicted crash may cause. Uncertainty is issue Number 1 on the American public's mind. Anytime a bill falters and something that needs to get done doesn't get done it creates uncertainty. That makes companies pull back on capital investment; it forces consumers to hunker down and save, not spend (another debate I'm not covering here), and it can slow economic growth.
For farmers, uncertainty about programs that may or may not support their businesses will hammer future plans. Dairy producers don't know what support will be available for them, if any (it was a bone of contention for House Republicans). And that puts a cloud over five years of amazing growth and commerce - a true bright spot in the economy. Of course it appears that any bright spots in the economy appear to be seen as fires to quench by those in Congress. Far be it for American Agriculture to pull this country's economy forward.
So we'll keep watching Congress. And we'll keep wondering what they do for a living. Getting the 2013 Farm Bill to conference committee would have been grand - that's where the tough stuff could be ironed out. Now? Not so much.