It seems like every year the price of certain foods inches higher and higher. Blame it on inflation, or the simple economic principle of supply and demand. But if you’re thinking about waiting until 2014 to stock up for the Zombie Apocalypse you may want to think again.
The House and Senate agriculture committees are in the midst of comparing their respective farm bills, which will determine the pricing and availability of some of the-most consumed products. But time is ticking and there doesn’t seem to be an agreement in sight.
Without a resolution, some foods may be double the price beginning January 2014. Dare we call it a political food fight?
Here’s what you need to know about the nation’s food policy and how it may affect your wallet in 2014.
You may shell out more for dairy products
If a farm bill does not pass by Jan. 1, 2014, certain commodities may be pricier than ever because of an anticipated agricultural fiscal cliff – or, in this case, a dairy cliff.
Without a signed bill, US law requires that policy revert back to the 1949 farm bill, which is considered permanent law. Under that law, milk could cost up to $7 a gallon. That’s because in 1949, the dairy industry was much smaller and the federal government provided larger subsidies for products like milk, butter, and cheese. If permanent law comes to pass, the government would be obligated to go into the market and purchase those products at double the going rate.
That would create a distorted market that would hit you directly in the pocketbook.
While not as immediate as milk, failure to pass a farm bill will eventually result in spike in prices of grains such as corn, wheat, and soy, said Kathryn Boor, dean of Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
“That will probably happen later than milk because milk has a shorter shelf life,’’ said Boor.
However, like dairy products, grains also rely on price supports from the federal government, causing higher prices for consumers.
Changes in the market mean that many farmers would need to shift their production process.
Without a farm bill, beef exports could drop, meaning that many farmers would need to reduce their herd. As a result, consumers may see the cost of hamburger go up, The Kansas City Star reports.
Since cattle eat grains, the higher price of grains would also lead to herd reduction, said Boor. The higher prices in one area of the food production chain, “will lead to a ripple effect to other commodities,’’ she said.
The farm bill is not all about farms
The much debated farm bill is a measure that governs federal agricultural policy and spending on food aid. The legislation has less to do with farming nowadays and more to do with agricultural research, trade, commodity pricing and income supports, nutrition programs, bioenergy, and land conservation. It’s intended to help stabilize food production and distribution among American farmers, ranchers, and producers over five-year periods.
“It would enable USDA to further expand markets for agricultural products at home and abroad, strengthen conservation efforts, create new opportunities for local and regional food systems and grow the biobased economy,’’ according to the US Department of Agriculture website.
Among the many provisions of the bill, the legislation provides disaster relief to livestock producers, for occurrences like droughts which have plagued many parts of the country. The bill also supports food sustainability research and food assistance programs for families in need.
On Dec. 12, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Senate would not extend current farm law that expired in September to keep from reverting to the 1949 permanent law.
There may be less federal funding for food stamps
One of the most significant differences between the competing House and Senate farm bill proposals involves funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps.
The Senate has proposed slashing about $4 billion in food stamp funding over the next decade, while the House is looking to cut nearly $40 billion. To offset the costs, as part of the “heat and eat’’ initiative, the Senate’s farm bill calls for states participating in the food assistance program to pay out a minimum of $10 to families in need – an increase from the current $1 minimum — to help with their heating costs. In turn, the families would receive smaller food assistance checks. The House measure would require states to pay a $20 minimum.
Overall, about 850,000 participating households would receive about $90 less each month under the House proposal, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office.
Some food banks less likely to accept refrigerated food
The current farm bill helped food banks add refrigerators to store perishable foods such as fruits and vegetables. If a farm bill does not pass, some food banks may not be able to add refrigerated facilities as easily and may only be able to hand out nonperishable boxed or canned foods.
Farmers are among many feeling the heat
While the farm bill encompasses much more than farms nowadays, farmers do still believe they have a stake in its outcome. The bill influences decisions about which crops are produced and how they are priced. The bill also sets the pay for farmers and determines how much land can be used for food production and how much land must be conserved.