Row crop producers may get an unpleasant surprise when the House and Senate Agriculture Committees begin trying to restart the farm bill process sometime during the next few months.

Since Congress did not pass the farm bill drafted by the House Ag committee last summer and, instead, extended the 2008 farm bill, both bodies will have to start anew if they want to pass farm new legislation when the fog begins to clear on budget and debt issues.

“This Taxpayer Relief Act that extended the farm bill for one year made no cuts in agricultural spending,” said Dr. Mark Lange, president and CEO of the National Cotton Council. “The result will be that when the Ag Committees meet again and start talking about farm policy they’re going to have to make five years of cuts fit into four years of farm bill.”

Beltwide presentation

Lange, speaking at the Council’s Beltwide Cotton Conferences in San Antonio, said many row crop farmers were already resigned to an estimated $25 billion to $35 billion in farm program spending cuts under the 2012 farm bill proposals passed by the Senate and not by the House.

“They’re still going to have to meet the same cuts; they may even have to make larger cuts as part of the deficit reduction and fiscal cliff associated with the debt ceiling and sequestration,” he said in an interview. “So the problem I see is that agriculture is probably in a little deeper hole now than it was in the fall of 2012.”

While the prospective of a single fiscal cliff captured most of the nation’s attention on New Year’s Day, Congress and the Obama administration will face three cliff-like situations concerning the federal budget within the next 30 to 60 days.

“The fiscal cliff was really about the expiration of tax cuts and the restoration of some significantly higher tax rates,” he noted. “The new cliffs we’re talking about are that, effective on Dec. 31, we essentially hit our debt ceiling. Now the Treasury can do some manipulations but only for a little while. Sometime around mid-February, Congress has to deal with a new debt ceiling.

“The Taxpayer Relief Act also postponed sequestration for 60 days. So Congress is going to have to take some action to deal with the conditions that bring about sequestration, which again has to do with spending cuts. Or, effective March 2, there will be sequestration on most government payments to the tune of about 8.5 percent.”

The biggest impact will be defense spending cuts. If those happen, significant layoffs will occur, further damaging the already fragile economic recovery. That’s an action Congress and the administration would rather avoid.