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Ag writer says farmers need to press for new farm bill

WEST FARGO, N.D. -- Farmers need greater urgency in pressing for a new farm bill, according to a prominent agricultural journalist.

"The longer that the time goes on, the less money (available for farm programs) there's likely to be," said Jerry Hagstrom, a Washington, D.C.-based ag journalist and Agweek correspondent. "Farmers really should be pushing to get this bill done."

Hagstrom spoke Sept. 12 at the annual Big Iron farm show in West Fargo, N.D., during a seminar hosted by the Red River Farm Network. Hagstrom took questions from audience members, Mike Hergert of the Red River Farm Network and Mikkel Pates, Agweek staff writer.

The current farm bill, the federal government's main food and agricultural policy tool, is slated to expire Sept. 30. Congress, however, has been unable to approve a new one.

The inability to pass a new farm bill recently has received front-page attention in some major publications, including the New York Times. But "so far, nothing seems to budge the Republican leadership to bring it up at this time," Hagstrom said.

"Hard-line conservatives have the idea that if Romney and Ryan (Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan) got elected, then next year they could fulfill their dreams in terms of making these cuts" to federal ag spending, Hagstrom said.

He predicted that the current farm bill will be extended or a new one passed, either after the fall election or next year. But huge federal budget problems will increase pressure over time to limit spending on farm programs, Hagstrom said.

If a new farm bill isn't approved by year's end, "you'll have to start from scratch" when a new Congress convenes early in 2013, he said. The new Congress likely would allocate less money for farm spending, he added.

So area ag producers need to press their elected officials in Washington to pass the farm bill now, he said.

Hagstrom's thoughts on other agricultural and political issues include:

Democrats nationally aren't interested in winning the votes of big farmers in the Midwest, he said. Rather, the party wants to gain votes from "smaller farmers, rural women and minority farmers. ... The rural vote is naturally Republican, but it varies in size," depending on how Republican and Democratic presidential nominees are perceived by rural voters.

It's unclear if current U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will remain in the post if Obama is re-elected. "I've never seen an ag secretary enjoy the job as much as Tom Vilsack does," Hagstrom said.

If Romney is elected, he likely would name Adam Putnam as U.S. ag secretary, he predicted. Putnam, who has political ties to Romney, currently serves as Florida ag secretary and is a former U.S. congressman from Florida.

Putnam would be good for U.S. sugar interests. "He was always a vigorous supporter of the sugar program when he was a congressman from Florida."

The chances of passing a standalone farm disaster bill in Congress are poor.

"I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I also think the Democrats don't have much motivation to pass a livestock disaster bill. Because I think the states in which most of the livestock is raised -- we're talking about cattle -- are Republican. So I don't think they're really worried this will have much impact on the election."