Forward momentum for the U.S. farm bill, the agricultural policy legislation up for renewal in 2012 after its latest five-year run, has stalled in the House of Representatives. After the Senate passed its version of the bill in June, the House Agriculture Committee submitted its proposal to the House. But disagreement over key elements related to farm subsidies and food stamps saw legislators focus instead on providing immediate economic assistance to farmers hit hard by recent drought conditions.

The current five-year legislation was set to lapse on September 30. House members had decided to try for a one- year extension of the current provisions, but dropped those plans in favor of aiding farmers before congressional summer recess began. Farm groups and some Democrats were against the one-year extension because they believed it would result in an inadequate set of policies in the final five-year bill. “My priority remains to get a five-year farm bill on the books and put those policies in place, but the most pressing business before us is to provide disaster assistance to those producers impacted by the drought conditions who are currently exposed,” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) told the Associated Press.

The major divisions between Republicans appear to involve how deeply to cut funding to the food stamp program, and how heavily to subsidize certain crops. In the meantime, while some farmers are still protected, others remained vulnerable to the effects that the drought has had on production. A $383 million emergency relief package, passed in the House but not the Senate at press time, would cover these farmers, who include cattle, pork and other livestock producers, until the full farm bill is taken up again. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released warnings that food prices may rise up to 4.5% next year in connection with the current drought conditions throughout much of the nation.

Whether or not a farm bill that appeases both Democrats, who object to food stamp cuts, and Republicans, who largely are in favor of greater cuts, will be produced in time seems in doubt, with Congress not set to return until September 10.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, September 2012