Ag groups react to House Ag Committee's farm bill passage

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, July 12, 2012- The House Agriculture Committee successfully passed its five-year farm bill authorization through committee with no major upsets, but commodity groups agreed that passing a joint farm bill before the current legislation expires on Sept. 30 is top priority. 

“In addition to crop insurance and Title I policies, the bill passed today includes important provisions with regards to conservation, research, food aid, marketing and nutrition that should not be subjected to the uncertainty of short-term extensions,” said National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) President Erik Younggren.

National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) President Garry Niemeyer said his members will be encouraging changes to the legislation as it reaches its final changes.  He noted NCGA “is disappointed the House Agriculture Committee's passed version of the 2012 farm bill does not include a more viable market-oriented risk management program.”

“We support moving the legislative process forward and urge Speaker Boehner to schedule time for full House floor consideration before the August recess,” Niemeyer added.

With a 35 to 11 vote, the “Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act” (FARRM) amendment process maintained its sugar and dairy policies, while adopting a GIPSA rulemaking repeal and defeating challenges to its $16 billion in Nutrition Title savings. 

Satisfied that the committee bill provides price protection against multi-year price collapse and “a good conservation title,” National Farmers Union (NFU) President of Government Relations Chandler Goule said “we were disappointed by the fact that Energy didn't have any mandatory funding, but we were pleased that the no-cost sugar program was maintained and that the stabilization provisions of the dairy programs were maintained.”

Goule said overall he is pleased the bill passed, but noted the urgency of getting it to the House floor, through conference and to the President's desk before Sept. 30. That task, he noted, will be “very difficult,” but an extension of the current farm bill “has some very negative consequences.”

American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Senior Director of Congressional Relations Mary Kay Thatcher said during the markup that if Boehner agreed to move the bill straight to conference instead of the floor, the legislation would need to attach as a rider to a legislative vehicle later in the year, most likely tax bills in the lame duck session. 

However, Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said after the markup that House members “will not stand for it not going to the floor” and noted the urgency of getting the legislation on the floor before August 3. The possibility of extending the current bill “is even less likely with these guys,” he said of the House, noting that “there is no good scenario beyond Sept. 30.”

“My concern is the bill will be taken away from us and we will be told what to do,” he added. 

Regarding particular amendments debated Wednesday, Thatcher noted the committee defeated those to alter sugar and dairy programs before noon. “We were pleasantly surprised,” she said. “Especially at the sugar vote, given the 46 votes in the Senate, but there were only 10 votes here. I think it's a really good omen.”

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., proposed the “Sugar Reform Amendment” to repeal the Feedstock Flexibility Program, which he said would “make sugar policy more transparent” and “provide flexibility to USDA in administering sugar policies.”

The measure, defeated 36 to 10, died in opposition led by Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and others, who maintained the sugar policy works and operates without cost to taxpayers. 

Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., had the final word, noting that “sugar policy doesn't have an effect on the federal budget,” and the committee's biggest challenge “is to address debt and come up with savings.”

A dairy amendment offered by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Rep. David Scott (D-GA), defeated by a margin of 29-17, attempted to remove the “Dairy Producer Margin Protection and Dairy Market Stabilization Programs” in the Farm Bill and replace it with a new margin insurance program.

National Milk Producers Federation President Jerry Kozak said the Goodlatte-Scott dairy amendment “would have undone years of consensus-building and compromise among dairy farmers” and commended the bill's defeat.

International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) supported the amendment, saying it “would offer the safety net of a margin insurance program with no strings attached.”

"Today's close vote, with bipartisan support, proves that our chances are excellent of winning a vote on the House floor when the Farm Bill is brought for a vote,” said IDFA CEO Connie Tipton. “Speaker of the House John Boehner has already indicated his intention to speak out against supply management for dairy."

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) commended the committee's passage of certain Credit Title provisions. The farm to school provision, led by Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), and Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) authorizes small rural schools to start making their own food purchases, provided USDA determines this would yield reduced administrative costs.

Reps. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) had their amendment to authorize microlending programs within USDA accepted by voice vote. The amendment authorizes USDA to make microloans of up to $35,000.

“Capital is the number one need of young and beginning farmers, and this amendment starts to address that need by improving federal credit programs for new producers,” said NSAC Policy Associate Juli Obudzinski. 

The Nutrition Title maintained its $16 billion reduction to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) despite proposed amendments from both sides of the aisle. One proposed to reduce the cuts to the Senate-passed version, which only saves $4 billion. The other proposed the SNAP reductions increase to the House Budget reconciliation level, or around $30 billion. 

“We recognized that it was a pretty delicate balance between Lucas and Peterson,” Thatcher said.  “I suspect far more effort went into finding that balance than actual votes”

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