WASHINGTON, Nov. 17 – Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., held separate briefings for members of their respective committees late Thursday in an attempt to bring them up to date on the status of deliberations to cut $23 billion out of farm bill spending over the next decade.
“The final text of a bill is still not complete,” according to a Senate staffer who attended the briefing that Stabenow held for all committee members. “But members have really come together, a lot of work has been done, and as of right now, it looks like a compromise will come together. The sticking point all along was inequity among commodities and regions of the country, and good work has been done to address those concerns. There now appears to be a clear and positive path forward.”
Another staffer said the Senate meeting provided an opportunity for members to express concerns about the lack of transparency on the process. Sen Pat Roberts, ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee asked Chairman Stabenow for final farm bill scores and bill language.
It’s not clear which members of the Senate Agriculture Committee will support the package, Most of those contacted by Agri-Pulse Thursday wanted to reserve comments until they had seen the final language. House and Senate staff members were reportedly still working on drafting final legislative language Thursday evening.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Lucas briefed fellow Republicans late in the day and told them that the package would cut federal spending by a net of $23 billion. Several of the concepts that we have reported previously appear to be in the final package.
Here are some of the highlights, presented during the briefings. Please note that these were presented as “recommendations” and are subject to change.
The new commodity title would eliminate fixed, direct payements, the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) Program and the Supplemental Agricultural Disaster Assistance Program (SURE), saving $15 billion.
Crop insurance would be expanded for underserved crops, including fruit and vegetable producers. The problem with declining Actual Production History (APH) yields would be addressed by increasing the county transitional yield.
A new stand-alone revenue protection program for cotton growers would be created, along with an expanded supplemental area-wide revenue coverage program for all other producers.
Ag Risk Coverage:
A new Ag Risk Coverage (ARC) program would be created to protect against both price and yield losses at the Farm Service Agency farm level. The Marketing Loan Program will be maintained except for changes to the cotton program to comply with the Brazil World Trade Organization (WTO) cases.
In addition to crop insurance, the ARC revenue program provides coverage starting at 87% of a producer’s 5-year Olympic average revenue, with a maximum payment of 12 percent to prevent overlap with crop insurance.
If a producer has a yield or price loss beyond 13 percent, producers will receive payments on 60% of planted acres, including acres that were prevented from being planted.
As an alternative to ARC, a producer can elect a price only coverage option, providing support on 85% of planted acres whenever prices in the first 5 months of the marketing year fall below the reference price. The target price for rice is expected to be $14/cwt, but none of the prices were listed in the documents released Thursday and sources say these may change.
Sources told Agri-Pulse that producers will be required to select one of the two options for the life of the Farm Bill.
The document does not specify how payments would be calculated, but our sources expect that they would be based on planted acres, limited by a farm’s base acres.
Payments under ARC would be capped at $105,000 per producer. Although not specified in the recommendations issued by Stabenow, marketing loan payments are not expected to be subject to payment limits.
Anyone with an Adjusted Gross Income of more than $950,000 would be ineligble for payments from Title 1 Farm Bill programs.
The number of conservation programs would be reduced from 23 to 13. The Conservation Reserve Program, which is currently capped at 32 million acres, would be capped at 25 million acres after a gradual drawdown.
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is maintained with many parts of the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program consolidated into it.
The Conservation Security Program is maintained with some changes in definitions and promotion of “science-based conservation outcomes.”
A new “Regional Conservation Partnership Program” is created to address areas with “particularly significant” water quality and quantity issues facing natural resource regulatory pressues including the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes and Red River.
A new “Agricultural Conservation Easement Program” including Agricultural Land Easements to protect lands from development and Wetlands Easements, would be created.
Extends current levels for the Export Credit Guarantee Program (GSM-102) through 2017.
The Market Access Program (MAP) is funded at $200 million annually through 2017. The Foreign Market Development Program is funded at $34.5 million annually through 2017. Funding for technical assistance for specialty crops is maintained at the current level of $9 million annually but the purpose of the program is modified slightly.
The existing dairy program would be replaced by the Dairy Producer Market Protection Program (DPMPP), a voluntary program that provides margin-based assistance for producers equal to the difference between the all-milk price and a national feed cost, and the Dairy Market Stabilization Program (DMSP) promotes growth while encouraging producers who participate in DPMPP to scale down production when the market is oversupplied, according to materials released by Stabenow’s staff. Thes programs replace the Dairy Product Price Support Program and the Milk Income Loss Contract Program. The Dairy Export Incentive Program would be repealed.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP):
Reauthorizes SNAP but modifies some eligiblity criteria for individuals and retailers. Provides USDA with an additional $5 million annually to prevent trafficking of food assistance benefits and to “strengthen retailer program integrity.”
Increases funding for commodity purchases for The Emergency Food Assistance Program by $100 million over 10 years.
Most Rural Development programs were continued without policy changes. For example, no changes to the Rural Business Opportunity Grants program, authorized at $10 million annually through 2017. The Rural Cooperative Development Grants program would be authorized at $40 million through 2017 and the Rural Microenterprise Assistance Program would be authorized at $20 million annually.
The Value-Added Agricultural Market Development Program has $15 million available and is authorized to receive $40 million annually through 2017.
The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) is continued with $27 million in mandatory funding and authorized to receive $45 million annually. Blender pumps and feasibility studies would be excluded from eligibility under the recommendations released by Stabenow’s staff on Thursday.
The Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) is continued with a $75 million annual authorization. The Biobased Market Program is continued with $2 million authorized annually.
The Biorefinery Refinery Assistance Program is continued with $75 million in annual funds authorized.
The Biodiesel Fuel Education Program is maintained with $1 million in funding annually.
The Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion program would be continued with $100 million in funding over 5 years. Specialty Crop Block Grants would be continued with adjustments in the funding formula and authorized at $70 million annually. For the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, provides over $400 million over 10 years in mandatory funding. Funding for the National Organic Program is $15 million annually. Funding for the Organic Research and Extension Initiative is $80 million over 10 years.
The sugar program would be left unchanged.
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