Senate Farm Bill reaction streams in from winners, losers

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 21, 2012- After two and a half days of voting on 73 amendments to the Senate Agriculture Committee's Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, the Senate passed the legislation Thursday with a 64-35 vote, exceeding the 60-vote threshold. 

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he is “very pleased that the Senate acted in bipartisan spirit today.” He added that “we are hopeful that the House of Representatives will produce a bill with those same goals in mind.”  

House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., scheduled his committee to begin consideration of its version of the 2012 Farm Bill on July 11. Although Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., is “not on board” with all the provisions in the Senate-passed bill he said “we'll be able to work out our differences in conference committee.”

“It is crucial that we finish the farm bill before the current bill expires in September,” Peterson added. “Waiting until the mess that will occur during the lame duck session will not only make it more difficult, but could also result in several unintended consequences.

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“If the House Ag Committee passes a bipartisan bill in early July, House leadership will then have little choice but to bring the farm bill to the floor before the August recess,” he said.

Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, had harsher words for the Senate Farm Bill, which had difficulty gathering southern support over regional differences in the commodity title and crop insurance programs. 

“It lacks regional balance by providing new entitlements for only a handful of farmers in selected states, while freezing out all other commodities from any sort of safety net,” Conaway said. However a fellow Republican Texan, Rep. Randy Neugebauer, said he anticipates changes to the Senate bill, but appreciates “the leadership from Senator Stabenow and Senator Roberts to move this legislation forward, and I'm pleased that my Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO) on crop insurance was included in their bill.”

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R- Ga., voted against final passage of the bill, due to concerns over the crop insurance program. He said the bill “seeks to establish a one-size-fits-all program rather than recognizing the limitations of crop insurance for certain regions of the country, namely the Southeast.”

“The new commodity title program, the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program will provide corn and soybean growers in the Midwest with a minimal band of revenue protection while leaving producers of other crops in other regions very little protection and certainty,” he added.  “If this bill were to become law without significant changes, producers in the Southeast would be left without an effective safety net.”

He noted that he hopes to support the bill at the end of the legislative process, “perhaps after action by the House of Representatives and a conference of the two chambers.”

Changes included during the amendment process in the Senate include the approval of Sen. Saxby Chambliss's, R-Ga., amendment to tie conservation compliance to crop insurance and Sen. Charles Grassley's, R-Iowa, payment limits amendment limiting market loan gains and loan deficiency payments under the Agriculture Risk Coverage program to under $75,000. 

“The payment limits I sponsored and got included in the bill install a hard cap on commodity program payments of any kind and close loopholes in the farm program that have allowed non-farmers to qualify for federal payments,” Grassley said after the vote. 

Additionally, Tom Coburn, R-Okla., successfully included an amendment to reduce premium subsidies by 15% for farmers or legal entities with adjusted gross income above $750,000.

The specialty crop industry expressed particular approval of the bill, which includes Specialty Crop Block Grants funded at $70 million per year and Specialty Crop Research Initiative funded at $25 million in FY13 increasing over time, among other provisions. 

“This bill addresses some of the continual significant challenges specialty crop growers face in the production and marketing of their crops in an increasingly global marketplace,” said Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association.

NCBA Vice President of Government Affairs Colin Woodall said he was “pleasantly surprised by the bipartisan efforts” and that “all is well for cattlemen and women” within the Senate legislation.

The American Soybean Association also expressed support for the bill, noting that it “would establish an effective risk management program for soybean producers that complements crop insurance, consolidate conservation programs, and have agriculture do its fair share to help address our nation's fiscal situation by reducing government spending on agriculture by $23 billion," said ASA President Steve Wellman.

“America's farmers greatly appreciate the leadership and cooperative work by the Senate to pass the 2012 farm bill in a timely manner,” National Corn Growers Association President Garry Niemeyer said.  “We would also like to thank Senators Stabenow and Roberts for their bipartisan efforts throughout the process.

While every group and lawmaker congratulated Senators Stabenow and Roberts for their work and passage of the legislation, several, including Environmental Working Group (EWG), did not support the bill, but applauded “the provisions that require farmers who receive crop insurance subsidies to carry out basic environmental protections on their farms.”

“However, the bill needlessly cuts vital nutrition and conservation funding, threatening a decade of environmental progress," said EWG President Ken Cook.

“The Senate was not allowed to debate amendments that would have capped crop insurance subsidies and eliminated or reformed costly new revenue guarantees,” he added.

National Council of Farmer Cooperatives CEO Chuck Connner  said “we recognize that this is only one step in the process and that the Senate bill fails to provide an adequate safety net for producers in certain regions of the country, especially the South.”

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