Failure to pass a farm bill would also affect conservation programs designed to help farmers reduce the flow of animal wastes, sediment and chemicals into the water supply.
The farm bill makes grants available to help farmers buy equipment or build systems needed to meet federal environmental requirements, said Daniel Greig, executive director of the Berks County Conservation District.
The biggest hit would come from cutbacks in technical service provided through the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, he said.
"What we may see is a continuing resolution," Greig said. "But if they don't resolve the fiscal cliff it doesn't matter if there is a farm bill or not; those cuts will go across the board."
He was referring to the so-called sequestration requirement lawmakers imposed when they previously failed to reach a deficit reduction plan: If Congress fails to agree on a plan to reduce the deficit, all agencies of federal government, with the exception of veterans' services, will have their budgets but by 10 percent.
Several Berks farmers said they were willing to do their part to bring federal spending down, and felt they had done so. Most noted that the bulk of spending in the bill, 80 percent, is for food stamps, not agriculture.
Indeed, most of the debate over the two bills pending before Congress is focused on nonagriculture-related sections. But all said the bill needs to offer reasonable protections for farmers, such as crop insurance and payments designed to help them compete globally.
"The safety nets that ensure that we can keep going, to me, are probably the most important things," said Michael Braucher, a grain and hay farmer who also maintains a small beef herd near Mohrsville.
Calvin Beekman, who grows apples, peaches and wine grapes near Boyertown, agreed. Crop insurance is a necessity now, he said. Lenders demand it.
"A lot of producers wouldn't stay in if we had a disastrous year here like the Midwest had," he said. "You couldn't stay in business. We couldn't stay in business."
Whatever happens, most farmers will weather this political storm, Beekman said, because they're "glorified gamblers" at heart.
"We take larger risks than most people would ever dream of," he said. "And you go with the flow and you deal with it and you go on."
(Reporter Jamie Klein contributed to this story.)