ST. ROSE — U.S. Rep. John Shimkus told a group of farmers Friday that he expects Congress to approve a compromise, one-year extension of the existing federal farm bill.
"There is some talk about maybe next week moving a one-year extension of the current bill," Shimkus said during a visit to the Luke Timmermann dairy farm between Breese and St. Rose.
Shimkus, R-Collinsville, said he would vote in favor of a one-year extension, adding that it would help farmers hit hard by the drought. He said House leadership has polled members on whether they'd support it.
Shimkus took a walk through one of Timmermann's corn fields, which Timmermann said will have to be chopped down and fed to his cows as silage. In most years, he's able to sell about 5,000 bushels of corn.
Timmermann said rain at this point won't really help. "What you see is what you're going to get," he said.
On top of that, all of his costs are increasing -- everything from water to the electricity that powers the milk coolers. And because of the heat, his milk production is decreased.
"I'm losing on both ends," he said.
The 2008 farm bill expires on Sept. 30. Passage of a new, $500 billion, five-year farm bill is in limbo, mostly over how much to spend on food stamps for the poor.
The existing farm bill contained disaster insurance for livestock producers in only the first four out of five years. Shimkus said a one-year extension of the existing bill would restore that fifth year of disaster insurance for the livestock producers, who are expected to be hit hardest by this year's drought because it will cost more to feed the herd.
"The argument for a one-year extension is to make sure that...if the legislative branch still stays fairly dysfunctional, if we at least do a one-year extension, not only are you covered now, but there will be an insurance plan available for next year's planning," Shimkus said.
He said a one-year extension is an acceptable compromise, "but the leadership needs to know that we have to have a multi-year bill."
Food stamps account for about 80 percent of the cost of the $100 billion-per-year farm bill program. The Democrat-controlled Senate has approved a version of a new farm bill that cuts food stamps by $4.5 billion over the next five years, while a version in the GOP-controlled House would cut food stamps by $16.5 billion.
Shimkus said the food stamp funding is the major point of contention in the farm bill. He said constituents often complain about seeing food stamp fraud, and "that message has been sent back to Washington."
The Senate version does away with most traditional farm subsidies and replaces them with programs that protect farmer revenue against poor yields and low prices.
The congressman said an extension to the existing farm bill might help lead to passage of a new bill during the lame-duck session this fall.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, on Thursday said: "If the House intends to send us a bill that will be used to negotiate the farm bill during August, I am open to that approach. However, a short-term extension is bad for farmers and our agricultural economy."
She added: "If Congress does what Congress always does and kicks the can down the road with a short-term extension, there will be no reform, direct payments will continue, we'll lose the opportunity for major deficit reduction and we'll deliver a real blow to our economic recovery."
About 30 farmers were on hand to talk with the congressman.
GOP state representative candidate Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, was on hand and said Gov. Pat Quinn needs to keep open an agricultural testing laboratory in Centralia. The lab is one of a handful of state facilities that Quinn plans to close.
Meier said the lab is needed to test corn that will be fed to livestock, because drought-stressed corn can have high levels of toxins. Quinn has said he's rethinking the closure of the lab.
Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at email@example.com or 239-2511.