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Delayed Farm Bill could affect millions of Americans 

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Roz Brown

(New Mexico News Connection) The Farm Bill, typically renegotiated every five years will likely be extended to six years this time around, as Congress seems months away from finding a path forward - if not longer.

The legislation governs an array of agricultural and food programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as SNAP, which Democrats typically want to expand and Republicans want to trim. 

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Aaron Shier, director of government relations with the National Farmers Union, said SNAP is the nation's most significant anti-hunger program, and the union is eager for Congress to pass a bill that protects and strengthens the program. 

"It's very much about those nutrition programs, making sure those nutrition programs remain strong; the Farm Bill's been described as a 'Swiss Army knife' - there are many different tools to address many different challenges," he said.

Nearly 23 percent of New Mexico's population is enrolled in SNAP - the highest of any state. 

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The current Farm Bill lapsed in October, but most lawmakers consider January 1 as the last possible date for approving a new one. Congress also missed the scheduled Farm Bill approval date in 2012, leading to an extension of the 2008 version. 

The Farm Bill also encompasses commodities, or basic goods and materials, as well as farm credit, rural development and conservation. To that end, two decades ago, Congress embraced the Conservation Stewardship Program to pay farmers for making soil and water conservation part of their daily operations. In recent farm bills, that funding has been cut significantly. 

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Nonetheless, Shier says his members consider conservation essential to agriculture - because at its core, farming is about stewardship.

"That's of our environment, of our climate - most farmers are great stewards - they want to be better. And they need those conservation programs to make sure those conservation measures are affordable," Shier continued. 

Environmental advocates want the bill to include more money for climate-smart farming to tackle wide-scale changes caused by global warming, while the GOP is focused on increasing subsidies for three specific Southern crops - peanuts, cotton and rice.