USDA official rallies for farm bill
Scuse: 'There's no leadership in kicking the can down the road'
By MATTHEW WEAVER
COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho -- The USDA will move to implement a farm bill as quickly as possible -- when Congress approves one, a top USDA official says.
Michael Scuse, USDA's undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services, said Congress will take a hard look at government programs to see what works, what's no longer needed and how to do more with less.
But when it comes to passing a farm bill, sooner is better, he said.
"There's no leadership in kicking the can down the road -- we need a Food, Farm and Jobs Act now," he said.
USDA has declared more than half of the counties in the United States disaster areas, Scuse said, but some disaster programs in the old farm bill expired last fall and others expired more than a year ago.
"Farmers and ranchers need certainty, and we can't wait," he said. "We must work around those who create roadblocks or can't get things done."
The biggest question will be whether Congress passes a farm bill in timely fashion before next spring, Scuse said.
"Congress will pass it today, yet they will want it enacted yesterday," he said. "It's very difficult to enact a bill quickly."
National Association of Wheat Growers CEO Dana Peterson asked about a possible one-year extension of the farm bill that just expired, since the USDA needs time to implement reforms that would be included in a new farm bill.
Scuse said that was a poor excuse. He blamed the USDA under the Bush administration for delaying implementation of the 2008 Farm Bill, and said Congress should not use the USDA as an excuse for not passing a farm bill.
"If they pass a farm bill, we're going to do everything we can to implement it as quickly as possible," he said
Programs important to the wheat industry like the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development program are only continuing due to a carryover of 2012 money and are expected to run out in January. If Congress doesn't pass a bill, the programs cease to exist and cooperators in foreign countries will have to close their offices, Scuse said.
"For every dollar we spend in these programs, there is a $35 return on investment," he said. "I don't know where you can spend the money to get that kind of return on investment anywhere."
Scuse spoke Nov. 12 to the Tri-State Grain Growers Convention in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.