By Amy Bickel
The next few weeks of chores are obvious on this swath of Stafford County: There is wheat to harvest and hogs to feed.
Yet the coming months leave Brian Dunn and other farmers with a great uncertainty in farm country. No one knows for sure the path forward for farm policy after the House failed to pass the farm bill.
Dunn told the following to Rep. Mike Pompeo, who visited Dunn's farm Friday afternoon - one day after the failed vote - to talk about the farm bill and other legislation to a small group.
"It's a food bill with a slice of farm," the crop and hog farmer said, adding he needed some assurance by September - the deadline for crop insurance for his wheat crop. "The last two years have been pretty tough with the drought."
Pompeo, however, wasn't optimistic for a resolution, instead telling Dunn and his father Leon, as well as a handful of others listening, that he expected the farm bill to be extended another year.
The Senate passed their version of farm legislation last week. However, the House vote Thursday was 234-195 against the bill, with 62, including Pompeo and Big First District Republican Tim Huelskamp voting "no," arguing it was too expensive.
Pompeo told the Dunns he voted against it because the five-year, half-trillion dollar measure has little to do with farming.
"I wish I could have had a farm bill to vote on," he said. "Instead, I had a food stamp bill."
His angst is with what he calls an "out of control" food stamp program that swallows up 80 percent of the bill before getting to agriculture policy. Moreover, the House's 3-percent cut to the nearly $80-billion-a-year nutrition program was not enough.
"I ultimately voted no because I went back and looked back at five farm bills because every cycle ag commodities have decreased and the non ag stuff, food stamps, have increased," he said. "At some point it is not worth us even having this conversation. It won't be the tail on the dog anymore, it will be the hair on the tail, and I think we got awful close to that."
Overhaul of farm programs began nearly three years ago. Last August, after the Senate passed its version, the House Agriculture Committee failed to send legislation to the House floor.
Lawmakers extended the legislation last year because of the stalemate.
In this measure, he said, the House went through 103 amendments. Many attacked farm insurance.
Pompeo said he wants the farm bill to stand alone from food stamps. And, he thinks it will pass.
Decades ago, farm state lawmakers tied the farm bill with nutrition assistance to help the measure pass through the growing urban Congress.
"Yes, I think the farm bill could pass on its own," he said. "If we could clean it up and take some stuff out that doesn't make sense ... just programs that have legacies that made sense 30, 40, 50 years ago."
Nevertheless, there is still concern that the good things of the bill could disappear with another year of debate, said Matt McCabe, a Buhler resident who works for Kansas Farm Bureau.
"There are some things in this farm bill we really like," he said, noting the expanded crop insurance program. "We don't want to lose the good stuff because of some of the bad things."