Metro-east consumers will see higher food prices in 2013, while likely facing a harder time finding organic and locally grown food -- all thanks to the drought gripping the Midwest and the nine-month extension to the federal farm bill passed Jan. 1 as part of the "fiscal cliff" deal between the White House and the U.S. Congress.
As a result of the extension, farmers and agri-businesses lost out on the five-year window of certainty regarding crop insurance and subsidies they were seeking. Instead, they will face the threat of more partisan haggling in Congress leading up to the extension's Sept. 1 deadline.
Steve Koeller, who grows corn and soybeans near Godfrey, said he doesn't know what to expect as the extension deadline approaches.
"It's gotten to the point now where it doesn't seem like anyone wants to give an inch," said Koeller, the president of the Madison County Farm Bureau. "It's just so political and media-driven."
The federally subsidized crop insurance program remains intact for now, but anxieties about its future are building.
Last year, metro-east farmers, like farmers across the Midwest and Southwest, suffered through the worst drought in 50 years. About 80 percent of all agricultural land in the United States experienced drought in 2012, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report issued last month.
The drought ruined much of the nation's corn, soybean and wheat harvests, driving up prices on those grains, as well as livestock feeds, resulting in higher prices at retail grocery stores, the USDA reported.
In view of the drought's persistence in the Midwest, despite recent snows and rains, and overall warm winter conditions, metro-east farmers are girding for the likelihood of another drought-stricken year in 2013.
That is why it's essential that a multi-year farm bill get passed, said David Tiedemann, who grows corn and soybeans in the Shiloh area, near Scott Air Force Base.
"These weather cycles aren't usually one-year events. They're multiple years," said Tiedemann, a St. Clair County Board member.
The nine-month extension still leaves intact crop insurance and $5 billion in direct payments to many of the most profitable farms. The stopgap measure also made only modest cuts to the nearly $80 billion-per-year Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which was formerly known as food stamps.
Republican-led efforts to make deep cuts in the SNAP program led to a months-long impasse leading up to the fiscal cliff deal.
The farm bill extension also drew severe criticism from progressive and environmental groups because it cuts money for programs that encourage organic agriculture, help start farmers markets and promote environmentally friendly agriculture.
For now, however, the biggest problem with the farm bill extension is the lack of certainty the extension provides for farmers planning years ahead, according to U.S. House members Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, and Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, both of whom sit on the House Agriculture Committee.
"We need a long-term, comprehensive farm bill, but this unfortunately does not do that," Davis said.
Davis blamed the failure to achieve a five-year deal on both Republicans and Democrats "to actually address many issues on a long-term basis. That's why we have these artificial deadlines ... Congress, it seems over the past four years, has put partisanship above effectiveness."
Enyart said that upcoming negotiations on a long-term farm bill must center on a "balanced approach" to the programs involved, including those that promote farmers markets in urban areas, as well as the $5 billion in subsidies to successful farms, especially those in the Deep South.
"I'm a fixture at the farmers market in Belleville Saturday mornings," Enyart said. "So I think there's a place for that. ... I think everything's going to be on the table with this fiscal cliff."
Environmental groups have blasted the farm bill extension, in part because it cuts out programs designed to help farmers address the very factors that some argue caused 2012 the hottest year ever recorded in the contiguous United States.
The farm bill extension cut funding for programs aimed at increasing grasslands and wetlands and that would help lock carbon, which is said to be a key factor in human-made climate change, into the soil, said Scott Faber, a spokesman for the Environmental Working Group, in Washington, D.C.
"It cuts funding for programs that help farmers fight climate change and it increases the taxpayers' liability when crops fail because of drought," Faber said. "From a climate perspective, the bill is a lose-lose."