NewsHour Connect: Supercommittee Fast-Tracks New Farm Bill

BY Saskia de Melker  November 16, 2011 at 4:00 PM EDT

Every five years Congress passes a bundle of legislation related to food and agriculture, the last of which was passed in 2008. The bill allocates hundreds of billions of dollars for everything from crop subsidies and forest protection to nutrition programs and international food aid. With so many different types of programs, it usually takes at least a year for stakeholders to voice their concerns and then for Congress to write and ultimately enact the bill. This year, however, the Farm Bill process is on the fast track.

The supercommittee tasked with tackling the nation’s debt crisis must offer their recommendation before Thanksgiving. Part of those projected cuts will be to agricultural programs, many of which make up the Farm Bill. The bill would effectively be determined when that package is slated for an up-or-down vote by Christmas.

For more insight on this year’s expedited Farm Bill, Hari Sreenivasan checked in with Peggy Lowe of Harvest Public Media, a local journalism center producing stories highlighting the complexities of agricultural issues in America’s farm country.

The largest cut that the committee will try to push through, Lowe said, is ending direct payments to farmers. Traditionally, farmers receive payment based on historical production, which means that even if they produce nothing, they can still receive payment from the government. The trade-off for giving up those payments is replaced by an extra safety net of insurance which protects farmers against crop losses or low market prices.

“They say that farming is kind of like Las Vegas on dirt — it’s a very risky proposition and that’s why farmers want these protections written into the fill,” says Lowe.

According to Lowe, another major issue in farm country changes to child labor laws on farms. The Department of Labor’s proposed revisions to child labor regulations for agriculture prohibit children under 16 from performing high risk jobs on farms, such as driving tractors, handling pesticides and branding cattle.

Photos by Eric Durban and Peggy Lowe of Harvest Public Media.