Congress: With deadlines looming, farmers urge quick action
"With our high land values in California, it's easy for a farmer to be hurt by the lower exemption thresholds and be forced to sell portions of the farm to pay the estate tax bill," Rolph said. "Keeping the family farm in the family is critical to sustaining agriculture, and reforming the estate tax is critical to sustaining family farms."
Before Congress adjourns its lame-duck session, agricultural groups want representatives to tackle passage of a 2012 Farm Bill. Farm Bureau and many other agricultural groups urge passage of a five-year bill, not a quick fix such as extension of the previous bill, Pegg said.
"There is no reason to extend the 2008 Farm Bill, even temporarily," she said. "Both the House and Senate made great progress on a new farm bill, and that progress will be lost if a five-year bill isn't passed this year."
She said farmers and ranchers who rely on disaster assistance, insurance, marketing and research programs will be harmed if Congress fails to act, a sentiment also voiced by House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn. Peterson urged House Republican leaders last week to bring the bipartisan Agriculture Committee bill to the floor for a vote this week.
"I'm optimistic that, if given the chance, we have the votes to pass a five-year farm bill. There is no good reason not to vote on the bill," Peterson said. "This will give us the time we need to work out our differences with the Senate and get a new five-year farm bill signed into law by the end of the year."
The previous farm bill expired on Sept. 30. Covering research, specialty crop programs, dairy assistance, trade and conservation programs, the farm bill funds critical programs such as nutrition assistance or food stamps, technical assistance for farmers and ranchers, invasive-species prevention and management, and initiatives that support food production and environmental conservation.
A continuing resolution passed by Congress extended funding for some critical programs through March. Even so, more than 30 programs have been affected by the bill's expiration, including the Market Access Program, the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and disaster assistance.
Those programs were the focus of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture, which met in Sacramento last week to discuss impacts of the expiring farm bill programs. State Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross said she remains hopeful that Congress will pass a federal farm bill after it reconvenes this week, but added, "We must move forward with the understanding that with the current expiration of some farm bill programs, dramatic long-term impacts will be felt by California's farmers and ranchers."
With Congress back in Washington, Farm Bureau's Pegg said now is the time for farmers and ranchers to contact their representatives about the importance of both the farm bill and of estate tax reform.
"Sharing your personal experience is key to making sure Congress understands how its inaction would hurt family farms and ranches and the rural economy throughout California," Pegg said.