While the failure of the House Thursday to pass a farm bill comes as a major disappointment, history has shown that setbacks of this nature can often provide opportunities. We have in the past seen lawmakers step back from the carnage left when an effort to move critical legislation falls short, reassess the situation, try again and produce even better policy.
The farm bill is critical legislation. It determines, among other things, farm, nutrition, conservation, research and energy policy and priorities for the next five years, and no one will argue that the realities of 2008, when the last farm bill was adopted, are the realities of today. Viable legislation that can assure the economic viability of today’s rural America is as necessary as any bill Congress can pass.
The 195-234 vote rejecting the farm bill brought to the House floor reflects the reality that a different approach is now needed to insure that Congress establishes a comprehensive, long term food, feed, fiber and fuel policy platform, including supporting the production of an affordable and stable food and fiber supply; conserving at-risk lands; boosting the economies of small, sparsely populated communities; and stimulating markets for what the U.S. agricultural sector produces.
Another pillar in the federal farm policy structure is the promotion of domestically produced clean energy solutions. The production of bioenergy feedstocks, the generation of alternative fuels like ethanol and biodiesel, the manufacturing and construction of wind and solar parts and projects, and the support of programs that make our farming and ranching operations more energy-efficient, all merit federal investment because they all provide strong economic returns in the form of new jobs and increased revenues for the communities they serve.
The basic realities that existed before Thursday’s vote have not changed. The deficit remains too high. The economy continues to fight its way back from the huge recession of four years ago. National security will always be a critical obligation. Improving our environment requires an unflagging commitment.
Developing farm policy that can provide the full benefits and advantages of clean energy produced by America’s farms, ranches and forestlands goes a long way toward meeting the challenges posed by the pursuit of a better economy, a more energy secure society and a cleaner environment.
Thursday’s developments do not bring to an end the need to pursue strong farm policy. Rural America deserves an approach that focuses on and makes the most of the resources offered by the land and those who work it. The policy interlude created by the House vote offers all stakeholders and lawmakers a good opportunity to take a new look at policy priorities and work to strengthen those missions, including the development of clean, renewable energy, that a 21st century farm bill should provide.