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Conservation director: Rural America will feel effects of no new farm bill

BY CLAY POPE Published: December 30, 2012

The signs are there. We've been told for some time now to ignore the warnings of doom, but the evidence continues to point toward an oncoming cataclysm that will forever change things.

I'm talking not about the Mayan calendar, but about the federal farm bill and the potential impact the failure to pass this legislation will have on rural America.

For most Americans, this debate about farm policy has been an afterthought centered on subsidizing “Big Ag” and food stamps. While food assistance is the largest part of the bill, and the act's first title deals with farm supports, the farm bill itself is much more.

From rural development to research to conservation, the farm bill deals with more than farm payments and food stamps. Programs to help rural communities with infrastructure, dollars for continued research into agriculture production and efforts to protect natural resources like soil, water and air will all be at risk if the U.S. House of Representatives continues its current path of inaction on this bill. What's even more troubling is that it's not a partisan issue.

Starting last year, the leadership of the Senate and House agriculture committees, including Oklahoma's own U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, started working on a bill that helped rural America while reducing anywhere from $25 billion to $35 billion in federal spending. One version passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote; another cleared the House Agriculture Committee with support from Republicans and Democrats. Then House leadership decided to spike this bill — even though indications showed most House members supporting action on the measure. Now Speaker John Boehner has said he even opposes including this bill as part of any compromise fiscal cliff legislation, even though federal reductions will be needed to balance the budget and agriculture has agreed to cut itself significantly.

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