Region 8 farmers brace for worst as Farm Bill expires

POCAHONTAS, AR (KAIT) - The 2008 Farm Bill expired Monday morning due to an ongoing stalemate on Capitol Hill.

A new revision was passed in the Senate, but has stalled in the House of Representatives.

The effects of this year's extreme weather have many ranchers struggling to make ends meet.

Farmers are borrowing against their own equity in an effort to fight high feed costs, and others are selling off their livestock.

Eddie Prince has 250 head of cattle and this is the worst he's seen it in decades.

"Cow numbers are down to what they were in the '50s. And with the inventory such as it is, it will be very difficult to replace that inventory for most people. And there's a lot of producers that have gone out that will never be back in because of the cost."

Exceptional drought and invasive army worms have devastated much of the hay crop.

Even the fraction of forage left untouched contains unsafe levels of nitrate--rendering the grass toxic and useless for cattle.

Prince says they've been fighting an uphill battle.

"This year, you had a lot of people that not only sold their calves during the summer time early, but they also sold their cow herds because of the lack of pasture for them and lack of feed."

Local ranchers were clinging to the hope of a disaster relief program to help cover the losses, but that assistance money may not be coming at all.

That bill ran into opposition in the Senate, which could create a rippling effect in the grocery store, especially in the dairy and meat coolers.

Congressional Representative Rick Crawford says further speculation will drive up costs at the supermarket.

"Part of the reason it's so critical for us to get drought assistance--and the Senate passed on it and didn't do it--was the fact that the livestock indemnity program in the '08 Farm Bill was not fully funded. So, there had to be a retroactive funding of that to provide a level of assistance."

Crawford says the worst-case scenario is a 6-month extension, if the House does not approve the new farm bill by January 1st.

He says the proposed 2012 Farm Bill would include the disaster assistance programs to provide aid to farmers.

"It's important that we pass that bill and that would help address the rising food prices and also production costs and other things that farmers are facing that, ultimately, consumers pick up the tab for."


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