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Guest Editorial - Farm Bill matters more than many think

Start with the prospect of $6-a-gallon milk. But don't finish there, because avoiding that price hike is just one of the reasons for Congress to pass a five-year Farm Bill before Dec. 31.

The U.S. Senate and the House Agriculture Committee both passed Farm Bills with supermajority support. But the House's Republican leadership won't let the full House vote; and now, time is running out.

The House leaders should let the vote proceed. Here's why.

• Milk prices. "Without an extension by Jan. 1, dairy policy reverts to a 1949 law," reports.

"The result could be havoc -- many estimate a doubling in consumer prices for milk," perhaps even to $6 a gallon.

"It's fair to say milk prices will increase, and that's an unfortunate circumstance," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at a press conference last week.

"Consumers shouldn't have to have higher milk costs because Congress can't get its work done."

• Commodity prices. "Further challenges related to commodities will arise at the first harvest of the 2013 crop year in late spring, when winter wheat will be also be subject to 1938 and 1949 law," Minnesota Farmers Union reports.

"Commodities harvested thereafter would be subject to parity pricing structures that are not in step with today's economy."

• Drought and disaster protection. "There is no permanent disaster protection program in place, even as most of the counties across the nation were declared agricultural disaster areas by the USDA at some point during 2012, and 55 percent of the nation's pasture and rangeland rated in poor to very poor condition," Minnesota Farmers Union continues.

• Wetlands and habitat conservation. "If nothing scrapes through before the end of the year, the farm industry could be thrown into chaos -- and fish and wildlife habitat could suffer irreparable damage," reports, the website for Field and Stream magazine .

"We have programs such as Wetlands Reserve and Grasslands Reserve that would cease to exist, so we could be going a whole year without protecting those critical habitats," said Steve Klein, director of the Center for Agriculture and Private Lands at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, in the story.

"And once many of those acres are converted to other uses, they are lost forever.

"So we really need sportsmen to contact their representatives and tell them how important this is -- now," Klein said.

• Land trusts. "Investing more than $5 billion a year in a suite of conservation programs, the Farm Bill far exceeds other federal sources of conservation funding," writes Kara Heide, executive director of the Eagle Valley Land Trust of Vail, Colo.

"Failure to enact a five-year Farm Bill before Congress adjourns could slash this important funding by $500 million."

• Nutrition programs. If Congress does nothing, then "among the programs that would disappear is the Women, Infants and Children program," reports Native American Times.

"It is designed to help provide proper nutrition for pregnant, nursing and post-partum mothers and their children younger than age 5."

The Farm Bill does more than just guarantee a safe and affordable food supply. It touches American life in countless ways, the vast majority of them for the better. The U.S. House should take note and pass a new five-year Farm Bill before Dec. 31. -- Tom Dennis for the Grand Forks Herald