After farm bill split, farm groups seek a make-up in conference

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, July 11, 2013- The U.S. House of Representatives' vote and passage of a farm bill without the nutrition title (HR 2642) today triggered confusion among the nation's farm groups, but all agreed to push for an immediate conference with the Senate. 

“Though this is not the path by which we anticipated the Farm Bill to pass the House, we hope that this vote takes the bill to conference where a final, comprehensive bill can be approved,” said Robert Guenther, United Fresh senior vice president of public policy, echoing the sentiment of most farm organizations today.

House Agriculture Committee Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said today's passage is “a huge step forward,” as the House did indeed pass a farm bill.

The Senate passed its farm bill last month, and the House already rejected a farm bill that included the nutrition title. 

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However, Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., contested that he believed “if we could find a way to remove the partisan amendments adopted during the House farm bill debate we would be able to advance a bipartisan bill, conference with the Senate and see it signed into law this year. Now all that is in question.”

During floor debate, Lucas appealed to his colleagues: “In the nature of making this place work, pass the ‘farm' farm bill so I can begin to work on nutrition part of the farm bill next.”

When and if a nutrition-only bill will also be brought to the House floor is still unclear. Lucas noted that even if he doesn't succeed in getting a nutrition bill to the floor, House appropriators still must address the program.  

The Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) said the House passage of a farm bill today “will allow the legislation to move to conference with the Senate version (S. 954), though several procedural questions have now been raised.”

According to National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition's Ferd Hoefner, “It is unclear whether today's passage of a portion of the farm bill in the House of Representatives is a step toward that goal or not.”

He said the vote would be positive only if the House moves forward immediately to a conference with the Senate on a comprehensive farm bill.

More than 500 agriculture and rural groups signed a letter last week that urged House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to bring a farm bill to the floor and opposed any potential farm bill without the nutrition title. However, several of those groups encouraged passage of the “farm-only” farm bill today.

National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) CEO Neil Dierks said NPPC signed the letter on July 2 urging support for a farm bill, but the letter was changed to include a statement of opposition if House leaders removed the nutrition title. “NPPC and its affiliates were not aware of that change and would not have signed onto the letter had they known about the change,” Dierks said.

National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) President Pam Johnson noted “we see no other way” to move the farm bill to a conference with the Senate without the House's approval of the bill today.

The bill passed today also repeals the 1949 and 1938 permanent law, which helps establish farm bill renewal every five years. 

“If we get rid of permanent law, and if we made the current bill permanent law, then yes, it probably is the last farm bill,” Peterson said today.

The National Farmers Union emphasized that “any final legislation must continue existing permanent law provisions” as well as a safety net for farmers and nutrition assistance.

In addition to Democrats, some major farm groups and the nutrition community, conservative influencers also opposed today's farm bill. Heritage Action warned conservative members of its disapproval of the increased crop insurance program and other provisions of farm policy in the HR 2642.   

Heritage said House leadership made “sneaky changes” to the bill so that some programs no longer expire after five years, “but live on indefinitely.”

“This means the sugar program that drives up food prices will be harder to change, because it doesn't automatically expire,” wrote Heritage after the vote. “It also means the new and radical shallow loss program that covers even minor losses for farmers will indefinitely be a part of the law.”

Twelve Republicans voted against the split farm bill voted on the floor today. They include:  Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Paul Cook (Calif.), Ron DeSantis (Flor.), John Duncan (Tenn.), Trent Franks (Ariz.), Phil Gingrey (Ga.), Tim Huelskamp (Kans.), Walter Jones (N.C.), Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), Tom McClintock (Calif.), Matt Salmon (Ariz) and Mark Sanford (S.C).

Notably, American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) reiterated its opposition to today's bill and to removing the nutrition title from the farm programs. In a letter sent to House members early after the Rules Committee scheduled today's votes, the nation's largest farm organization said it is concerned that “it will prove nearly impossible” to adopt a farm bill that can be conferenced with the Senate and approved by the President without a nutrition title.

In its letter, AFBF said the “marriage” between nutrition and the agriculture community “has been an effective, balanced arrangement for decades.”

However, not all State Farm Bureaus followed the national organization's lead on this position. In a letter to its delegates, Texas Farm Bureau outlined its support of the passage of HR 2642.

“We did not support the process by which this bill came to the floor today, but we understand House leadership has determined the only way forward at this time is to handle the titles separately,” said Kenneth Dierschke, Texas Farm Bureau President. “Farmers and ranchers need the certainty of a five-year farm bill and passage of HR 2642 today can get us closer to that goal.”

Similarly, the Alabama Farmers Federation said its members felt the split bill “may be the only option left to get a five-year farm bill passed before the current, extended bill expires in September.”

“Passage of the split bill will keep the legislation moving forward to a conference committee where differences possibly can be reconciled with the Senate version,” said Mitt Walker, Director of National Legislative Programs at Alabama Farmers Federation.

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