Senators push for Farm Bill support before amendment process begins

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 7, 2012- Senators Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Pat Roberts, R-Kans., said they are prepared to consider several amendments to the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 during a press conference yesterday. As the Senate prepares to take up the 2012 Farm Bill, the Senate Agriculture Committee leaders highlighted the reforms included in the legislation.

“We are creating a new approach that only helps farmers when there is a loss, and only for crops they have actually planted,” Stabenow said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “We are strengthening payment limits. We are ending more than 100 programs and authorizations that are no longer needed.”

While more conservative estimates predict the Senate Farm Bill process will continue grinding for possibly three weeks, Roberts said yesterday that his goal is to see it through by next Thursday. 

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The senators agreed that the legislation will likely receive the 60 Senate votes needed to proceed with its consideration, which is scheduled to occur Thursday morning. The more unpredictable stage will be the amendment process, which will likely include several proposed amendments. 

“Both of us agreed that if the number of amendments doesn't get too big that we can accommodate that,” Roberts said. “I'd prefer that all non-germane amendments to agriculture be considered in a separate venue, but that's not possible.”

During a teleconference on Monday, Stabenow said she will not likely take up a manager's amendment, but the Senate Agriculture Committee leaders implied they are open to considering all suggestions. 

“If someone has a problem with the bill, come to us,” Roberts said.

On a media call Wednesday, Senator John Thune, R-S.D., said he expects southern leaders to bring amendments to the Farm Bill. When the Senate Agriculture Committee passed the 2012 Farm Bill through committee, the 16-5 vote included most dissenting voices from southern commodities. Representatives of regions growing crops like rice and peanuts are not content with the Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) program included in the Commodity Title. 

Stabenow described the Committee process they took to accommodate cotton in the Farm Bill by including the STAX program.

“Cotton worked with us,” she said. “We want to do that with every area. But we're not going to go back to the old system.”

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), part of a list of 185 individuals and organizations, supported a potential amendment to provide mandatory funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program. The organizations also argued for funding for the following Rural Development programs: Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG), Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP), Rural Energy Savings Program, and Water/Wastewater Backlog.

NSAC Policy Director Ferd Hoefner recognized there are “many steps in the right direction to support beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers in the Senate Agriculture Committee's version of the farm bill, including renewed funding for the CRP Transition Incentive Option (CRP-TIP) and an improvement to the Down Payment Loan Program.”

“We are deeply concerned, however, with the 50 percent cut in annual funding for the cornerstone Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, the 75 percent cut in annual funding for the Socially Disadvantaged Farmer and Rancher program, and also with the absence of funding for rural economic development programs,” Hoefner said. 

However, a trio of beginning farmers joined the Senate Agriculture Committee leaders yesterday to voice their support for the bill

“Losses are tough on any producer, but especially catastrophic for a beginning farmer who is still trying to build up equity,” said Ben LaCross, a cherry grower from Cedar, Mich. “I wish the 2012 Farm Bill reported out by your Committee was in place today. It is a good bill for young and beginning farmers and ranchers. If the bill were in existence today, I would have the opportunity to cover more of my crops through crop insurance.”

Roberts noted that although there are critics of crop insurance, “it is the number one issue for farmers, ranchers and lenders across the country.” He explained that amendments to the crop insurance system could be considered, but said, “I remain confident that this will be the centerpiece.”

“It is a public-private effort. It is very different from direct payments,” Stabenow added. “It is insurance. There is no payout unless you have a loss.”

“This is not your father's farm bill,” she noted. 

“The 2008 Farm Bill is set to expire at the end of September - we must pass this commonsense bill immediately to give farmers the certainty they need to continue growing the economy. Sixteen million American jobs rely on agriculture,” Stabenow said. “The time for reform is now.”

Roberts, on his seventh farm bill, said the 2012 Senate legislation “is a true reform bill” that eliminates four commodity subsidy programs: direct payments, counter-cyclical payments, the SURE program and the ACRE program. 

“No other committee, in the House or Senate, has voluntarily undertaken programmatic and funding reforms at this level in this budget climate,” he said.

With all of the reforms he said there is “$23.6 billion in mandatory savings, at least $1.8 billion in reduced discretionary authorizations, and at least 100 programs or authorizations eliminated.”

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