KIOWA COUNTY, Colo. - This year much of Colorado's drought-stricken Eastern Plain looks more like a desert than fertile farmland.
Rain has been scarce in Kiowa County, says farmer Bob Weber. We found him spraying weeds, preparing to plant summer crops.
Farmers in the area avoid disturbing their soil for fear of losing what little moisture content they've built up.
Weber has reason to be cautious: he just finished a pretty miserable wheat harvest.
"We average on a normal year 25-30 bushels an acre," Weber said. "This year we had about 3 or 4 bushel average."
It was bad enough that he needed to collect money from crop insurance this year. We all pay for that through the federal government.
The federal programs designed to help farmers when conditions get like this are all part of the farm bill.
It's a giant piece of legislation that gets renewed (in theory) every five years.
The legislation is stalled in Congress right now because of an issue that matters far more to people in the cities: food stamps.
Food stamps have been in the farm bill since the 1970s as a way to make urban members of Congress care about passing the bill when it came up for renewal.
Touring a nearby field of feed grain, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) wants to keep food stamps and farms together.
"I think that we've got to get past the place where people if they object to one thing in a bill, that they're then going to be completely against a bill," Bennet said.
The Senate version of the farm bill passed easily this year with 66 votes, including 18 from GOP members, but in the House of Representatives, Republicans removed food stamps from their version citing the cost.
Food stamps are now 80 percent of farm bill spending.
Republican Cory Gardner voted for the House bill because he wanted to advance the farm bill that landed on his desk, but says dropping food stamps was a bad strategy.
"The Senate isn't going to agree to splitting the bill. The President won't agree to splitting the bill," Gardner said.
He'd rather focus the fight on cutting more spending from food stamps and subsidies. The Senate bill does make cuts to those areas, but not as much as House Republicans would like.
Above all, farmers want a new five year bill, but worry Congress will only be able to pass a temporary extension.
"Congress has trouble making their mind up, you know that," Weber said.
The USDA is currently operating under a 9-month extension of the 2008 farm bill, which is set to expire at the end of the September.
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