Farm bill, fiscal cliff discussions both important to farmers - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Farm bill, fiscal cliff discussions both important to farmers

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BLACK HAWK COUNTY (KWWL) -

Tuesday, Congress gets back to work with a full schedule.  With just more than a month worth left of this year's session, it's tasked with avoiding the so-called "fiscal cliff" and passing a new farm bill.

Of course any legislation involving farming is important to Iowa.  Conservation programs and crop insurance are key parts of farm bill legislation that farmers value.  But right now, looming changes to the tax code in the "fiscal cliff" budget discussions are equally concerning to farm families.

The fields at Blue Diamond Farming in rural Jesup sit empty right now.

"We're usually just finishing harvest right now," said Ben Riensche, owner of Blue Diamond.

That's allowing Riensche's crew to get a head start on tractor maintenance.  But miles from his Iowa farm, Riensche's also thinking about discussions about to get underway in Washington, D.C., as congress prepares to tackle the farm bill and fiscal cliff.

While 80 percent of the farm bill pays for nutrition programs, the remainder supports conservation, subsidies, and insurance programs important to farmers.

"What I'd like to see stay in the farm bill is soil conservation measures, so farmers can remain strong stewards of the land... I'd hate to see the provisions that help us cost share those things go away," said Riensche.

But beyond the farm bill, Riensche's equally concerned about the looming "fiscal cliff" --- a series of automatic budget cuts and tax reforms set to kick in at the end of this year, if Congress can't reach a budget deal.

"Overshadowing perhaps the Farm Bill are the changes in the inheritance tax laws coming.  Farm assets have been going up for a number of reasons:  lack of other investment alternatives, higher grain prices, lower interest rates, make farm land a very interesting investment for both farm and non-farm investors.  Unfortunately, if you want to pass your business on to your heirs, the government's inheritance tax or what they call the 'Bush tax cuts' are scheduled to go away at year end.  If you're passing a business on to your heirs, those are very attractive ways to do that," Riensche said.

But Senator Chuck Grassley believes Congress will work together, avoiding the fiscal cliff and getting a new farm bill.

"Well I surely hope so because it's very important to have a Farm Bill, even if we just get a one year extension that shouldn't take too long.  And really the most important thing for the economy is to get an agreement between the Congress and the President where both give some, find middle ground, and get something passed so we don't have the fiscal cliff," Sen. Grassley said.

Proposed new farm bill legislation does include important changes to help livestock producers affected by farm woes like drought, since they're not eligible for crop insurance.

Congress resumes session Tuesday, but only for a few days before the Thanksgiving break.

It's then scheduled to meet four more weeks and could run into Christmas Eve discussions to ensure a debt deal gets reached by year's end.

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