Farm bill agreement has finally arrived in Congress
By Derrick Cain
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.
WASHINGTON, Jan. 27, 2014 - Top House and Senate agriculture committee leaders announced today a bipartisan agreement on a five-year farm bill that among other things would eliminate direct payments, revise commodity supports, enhance crop insurance, and streamline conservation programs.
The legislation was reported out of the House Rules Committee tonight, setting up potential action on the House floor Tuesday or Wednesday. The language could see a Senate vote as early as Tuesday.
“We are putting in place sound policy that is good for farmers, ranchers, consumers, and those who have hit difficult times,” said Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. “I am proud of our efforts to finish a farm bill conference report with significant savings and reforms.”
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called the agreement “a positive step in the right direction.” Boehner said the bill will save about $23 billion over 10 years, while including important reforms to farm and food stamp programs.
“While I hoped many of these reforms would go further, the status quo is simply unacceptable,” Boehner said. “This legislation, however, is worthy of the House's support.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Senate will take up the bill within the next three weeks.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman, Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said tonight she believes the conference report will have enough votes to clear both chambers. “Today's bipartisan agreement puts us on the verge of enacting a five-year farm bill that saves taxpayers billions, eliminates unnecessary subsidies, creates a more effective farm safety-net and helps farmers and businesses create jobs,” Stabenow said.
Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., House Agriculture Committee ranking member, said, “While it's no secret that I do not support some of the final bill's provisions, I believe my reservations are outweighed by the need to provide long term certainty for agriculture and nutrition programs. This process has been going on far too long.”
According to a summary from the top conferees, the legislation:
- Repeals the direct payment program and strengthens risk management tools.
- Repeals outdated programs and consolidates duplicative ones, eliminating nearly 100 programs or authorizations.
- Helps farmers and ranchers create jobs and provides certainty for the 16 million Americans working in agriculture.
- Strengthens conservation efforts to protect land, water and wildlife for future generations.
- Maintains food assistance for families while addressing fraud and misuse in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), including about $8.6 billion in cuts to the program over 10 years.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said he was not pleased with reforms dealing with payment limits and “actively engaged” language, which he said “have been watered down to the point they will likely to have little to no effect.”
“It's bad for agriculture, it's bad for taxpayers who are worried about the debt, it's bad for our credibility with trading partners, and it's bad for the future of farm programs,” Grassley said.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said lawmakers have forged a compromise that moves closer to getting a long-term farm bill signed into law.
“I'm confident that this farm bill strikes the right balance to make sure a strong safety net will be provided to North Dakota's diverse agricultural system, which leads the nation in the production of over 13 different commodities,” Heitkamp said. Under the bill, Heitkamp said ranchers who experienced losses due to natural disasters will be able to recoup portions of their losses, backdated when the programs initially expired in October of 2011.
Earl Garber, president of the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD), said the conference report shows a bipartisan understanding of “the true value that conservation brings to the landscape and to the economy.”
Garber said the conference report includes two of NACD's top farm bill priorities: conservation compliance tied to crop insurance, and language to streamline the conservation technical assistance (TA) delivery process.
“Linking conservation compliance to crop insurance will further the conservation of natural resources, while protecting producers' bottom line,” Garber said. NACD has advocated for changes to streamline the TA delivery process by giving decision-making authority to the USDA secretary for effective implementation of conservation programs.
Jim Mulhern, president and chief executive officer of the National Milk Producers Federation, said his organization has worked with agriculture leaders in the House and Senate to develop a margin insurance program that will offer dairy farmers an effective safety net in the absence of a market stabilization component.
“That process is now complete,” Mulhern said. “Despite its limitations, we believe the revised program will help address the volatility in farmers' milk prices, as well as feed costs, and provide appropriate signals to help address supply and demand.”
The American Soybean Association (ASA), often at odds with the House Agriculture Committee on the commodity title, announced support for the conference report.
ASA said the bill provides for multiple soybean farmer priorities, including a flexible farm safety net that includes a choice between price-based and revenue-based risk management tools and maintains the decoupling of payments under both programs from current planted acreage.
“This has been a trying process to be sure, but we think that through it all, the conferees and their leadership have produced a framework that will serve the best interests of soybean farmers,” said ASA President Ray Gaesser.
Gaesser said the bill includes a choice between an ASA-supported revenue program that covers both price and yield losses with county and farm level options, and a price support program which allows the optional purchase of insurance coverage under a supplemental coverage option.
“The bill establishes practical risk management programs that will protect us in difficult times,” Gaesser said. “But beyond that, we support this bill because it strengthens crop insurance; includes a streamlining and optimizing of conservation programs; funds critical energy and agricultural research initiatives; and invests in the trade development programs that are so critical to the soybean industry.”
Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, said his organization is pleased with the final language.
“I am encouraged to see provisions that benefit family farmers and ranchers in the bill, including approximately $4 billion in livestock disaster funds, retroactively available to those who suffered tremendous losses last October,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the bill increases access for livestock producers to Environmental Quality Incentives Program benefits, along with many other supportive policies.
He noted that lawmakers did not make changes to the country-of-origin labeling law or major adjustments to the protections for producers under the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA).
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