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Harvest Public Media is a reporting collaboration focused on issues of food, fuel and field. Based at KCUR in Kansas City, Harvest covers these agriculture-related topics through an expanding network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest.Most Harvest Public Media stories begin with radio- regular reports are aired on member stations in the Midwest. But Harvest also explores issues through online analyses, television documentaries and features, podcasts, photography, video, blogs and social networking. They are committed to the highest journalistic standards. Click here to read their ethics standards.Harvest Public Media was launched in 2010 with the support of a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Today, the collaboration is supported by CPB, the partner stations, and contributions from underwriters and individuals.Tri States Public Radio is an associate partner of Harvest Public Media. You can play an important role in helping Harvest Public Media and Tri States Public Radio improve our coverage of food, field and fuel issues by joining the Harvest Network.

Farmers in Limbo – Again

Frank Morris/Harvest Public Media

The farm bill expired at midnight on Monday, leaving farmers and ranchers across the country guessing at what federal farm policy will look like when they next put their crops in the ground.

Of course, they’re used to uncertainty, as this is the second straight year Congress has let the farm bill expire. Last year, farmers were set adrift for three months before lawmakers passed a nine-month extension of older policy in January.

Last time, the upcoming presidential election seemed largely to blame for the congressional inaction. This year, the farm bill was caught up in the partisan bickering surrounding a long line of important issues from immigration to health care. Farmers are among the many looking warily at Washington DC.

“Once again we do not have a farm bill in place,” said Iowa farmer Jeff Longnecker. “I don’t know what’s going on there. It’s like they’re both just trying to see how long they can stretch this out and not come up with an answer.”

It may be a while yet. Because farm policies are generally governed by the crop year, not the calendar, the previous farm bill programs apply to most crops already in the ground. The “dairy cliff” — caused by an arcane law that would force milk prices to double — would be among the first concrete effects of the lack of a farm bill, but it won’t be an issue until Jan. 1. 

Farm policy actually has little to do with the stalled farm bill. In fact, legislators are mostly arguing over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, which makes up about 80 percent of the bill’s spending.

Steady farm policy is helpful, if not vital, for farmers. They want to understand what kind of safety net will be available to them when they decide how, where and what to plant. And those decisions make or break farmers every year.

Both the House and Senate have passed versions of farm bill legislation. Eventually, a conference committee will have to hash out the differences in the legislation and hammer out a compromise for each house to pass. But thanks to continuing partisan bickering and a legislative bottleneck, don’t expect a new farm bill any time soon.

Harvest Public Media’s Amy Mayer contributed to this report.