The top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, John Boozman, staked out his farm bill position Tuesday, releasing a proposed framework that largely mirrors the legislation Republicans pushed through the House Agriculture Committee last month.

Boozman’s proposal, which calls for an average 15% increase in Price Loss Coverage reference prices to account for increases in input costs since they were first set a decade ago, differs sharply from an outline Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., released May 1.

“The Senate Republican framework won't come as any surprise and mirrors what our stakeholders have been calling for over the past two years,” Boozman told reporters.

But he acknowledged that Congress may have to pass another extension of the 2018 farm bill by the end of the year. The 2018 farm bill was effectively extended through 2024 last fall. If Congress doesn’t pass an extension this year, archaic commodity laws dating back to 1938 and 1949 would kick in and eventually require USDA to take steps to increase prices for milk and other commodities.

“Farmers desperately need the surety of a five-year program,” Boozman said. “On the other hand, talking to farmers, they realize that just doing something to do something is not the answer. They want something that's going to make a difference.”

At one point in the media briefing, Boozman, who was sitting at his committee’s table, said, “I think next we have to sit around a table like this and get serious about getting a farm bill done or [agree] to disagree and start working on an extension.”

Boozman outlined his proposal in a 13-page summary but didn't release bill text. His staff declined to discuss details of key provisions and said that they hadn’t received some final cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.

Stabenow also hasn’t released bill text. She instead put out a 94-page section-by-section summary of her bill, the Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act, on May 1 as House Ag Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson was releasing the first summary of his bill. Under her bill, PLC reference prices for cotton, rice and peanuts would be increased by just 5%. 

In line with the House bill, Boozman is proposing to restrict USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation spending authority and to require that future USDA updates of the Thrifty Food Plan be cost neutral. TFP is a model of food costs that is used to set SNAP benefits. Boozman also is proposing to move Inflation Reduction Act conservation funding into the bill and to remove restrictions that limit the money to climate-related practices.

Stabenow has indicated that removing those climate guardrails and restricting TFP updates are both red lines for her.

The proposed new PLC reference prices for individual commodities were not released, but the summary of the plan notes that the escalator provision for reference prices also would be modified. The effective reference price in any given year would be 88% of the five-year Olympic average market price for the commodity, capped at 20% above the statutory reference price. The escalator is currently capped at 15%.

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The summary also says that the Agriculture Risk Coverage program coverage level would be increased but doesn’t say by how much.

Boozman also wants to enable farmers who lack program base acres to get them, but he is using different rules than the House bill does, an aide said. For example, Boozman’s bill wouldn’t include the 30-million-acre limit on new base acres that is in the House version. Boozman envisions allowing new and beginning farmers to obtain acres going forward, using acreage that is removed from the farm programs when the land is no longer in agricultural production, the aide said.

In another departure from the House bill, Boozman’s proposal would include the Innovative FEED Act, a bill intended to speed reviews of feed ingredients that can address environmental concerns or make livestock production more efficient. The House bill doesn’t address the issue.

Other highlights of Boozman’s proposal that align with the House legislation:

  • It increases premium subsidies for the Supplemental Coverage Option to 80% and raises the top coverage level to 90%.
  • Funding for the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Program would be doubled.
  • Requires that at least 50% of Food for Peace funding be used for procuring and shipping U.S.-grown commodities.
  • States such as California would be barred from imposing production standards on livestock products produced in other states.
  • Loan limits for direct and guaranteed operating and ownership loans would be increased.

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