WASHINGTON, June 10, 2013 – The Senate approved its five-year farm bill (S. 954) today with a strong bipartisan 66-27 vote, ending the two-week debate and moving the focus to the House floor.
After the vote, Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said she was proud of the work the Senate has done on the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act, and noted “this has got to get done by September.” The current one-year extension of the farm policy bill is set to expire at the end of that month.
“We’ve done our part again,” Stabenow said. “We’ve worked closely together…We’ll get this done.”
Eighteen Republican senators joined 46 Democrats and two Independents in approving the bill. Newly minted Sen. Jeffrey Chiesa, R-N.J., voted in favor of the bill.
Two Democrats – Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. – joined 25 Republicans in voting against the bill. The two Democrats likely broke ranks due to objections over proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Committee ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., applauded passage of the bill.
“The Senate has produced a farm bill that meets the needs of those involved in agriculture production and the consumers of the crops produced by American farmers and ranchers,” Cochran said. “American agriculture producers deserve the certainty that comes with a strong five-year farm bill. I’m pleased that we’ve come up with a bill that will meet that need.”
In voting against the bill, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said the legislation was “a return to trade and market distorting policies of the past, does not represent reforms achieved in last year’s Senate passed bill and does not cut enough wasteful spending.”
Roberts said the bill was not the best bill possible for farmers and that he was disappointed the legislation includes target prices.
The commodity title includes the price-based Adverse Market Program (AMP), which sets target prices at a percentage of recent average prices and provides that support levels be updated annually.
Roberts has said the bill raises the guaranteed price for rice by $2.80 to $13.30 and increases peanut prices from their $495 target price per hundredweight to $523. He has noted the full cost of production for rice in the Mississippi Delta was $10.90 per hundredweight in 2012.
In support of the bill, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., touted the bill she said is expected to reduce the federal deficit by more than $24 billion.
“North Dakota producers deserve a long-term bill and it is incumbent upon the House to step up for rural America,” Heitkamp said. “Inaction will simply delay needed reforms, prevent smart cuts from taking place and continue unneeded policies that do not reflect the needs of rural America.”
Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., said, “While no bill is perfect, the farm bill that passed the Senate tonight is common sense legislation that gives farmers the certainty they need to make long-term decisions.”
Before final passage, the Senate approved Monday night, on a 48-38 vote, an amendment, offered by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., which would create a pilot program within the existing Rural Utilities Service (RUS) broadband program to test investments in ultra-high speed gigabit projects in rural areas. The pilot program would allow RUS to invest in up to five gigabit projects in rural areas.
The underlying bill, which is the main driver of U.S. agricultural policy, is largely the same legislation the Senate approved last year on a 65-34 vote. The bill farm addresses income support, land conservation, trade promotion, rural development, research, forestry, energy, horticulture, credit, crop insurance, and food and nutrition.
Supporters say the $955 billion bill would save about $24 billion over five years, largely by eliminating direct payments to the tune of around $16 billion and cutting about $4 billion from the nutrition program. However, the latest Congressional Budget Office’s recent score has put the estimated savings closer to about $18 billion.
The bill would eliminate nearly 100 federal programs, reform crop insurance, and limit payments to producers.
Also, the bill would consolidate 23 conservation programs into 13 programs and reduces spending on those programs by an estimated $5.6 billion over the next 10 years. The legislation seeks to create greater flexibility for federal and state foresters to meet stewardship, restoration and management challenges.
Passage of the bill in the Senate was greeted by expected applause among agricultural stakeholders.
Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation said the bill would provide needed risk management tools and a “viable safety net” for U.S. farmers.
“We appreciate the Senate’s decision to protect and strengthen the federal crop insurance program and not reduce its funding, as well as the approval of a commodity program that provides farmers varied safety net options,” Stallman said. “This approach to farm policy will encourage farmers to follow market signals rather than basing planting decisions on anticipation of government farm benefits.”
Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, said the bill would provide a safety net for family farmers and ranchers “as well as a robust crop insurance program, mandatory energy funding, streamlined conservation programs, additional protections for livestock producers and incentives for locally owned and organic production.”
Jerry Kozak, president and chief executive officer of the National Milk Producers Federation, praised the inclusion of the Dairy Security Act, which establishes a voluntary margin insurance program, in the legislation.
“On this strong bi-partisan vote, the Senate has again shown its determination to put politics aside, and work to implement new and better policies for America, including the country’s dairy farmers,” Kozak said. “We are very pleased at the progress made during this vital step in the farm bill process, but we also know that much work lies ahead.”
Also in support of the bill, Danny Murphy, president of the American Soybean Association (ASA), said the bill would provide certainty for soybean farmers.
“The Senate has again shown admirable dedication to passing a new farm bill that will provide certainty for soybean farmers and our fellow members of the agriculture community,” Murphy said. “The bill passed this evening represents many of ASA’s priorities and is a critical step toward strengthening the farm safety net, protecting planting flexibility, improving conservation, bolstering exports and feeding our nation’s hungry.”
The National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (NCFC) also joined in the praise of the bill’s passage.
“Producers across the country deserve the certainty provided by a five-year bill, and the Senate vote is notable for the strong bipartisan and regionally balanced support shown for the legislation,” the group said in a statement.
The National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) offered its support.
NAWG President Bing Von Bergen said, “NAWG was encouraged to see Senate Democrats and Republicans working together to pass this important bill. It has become a rare day when leaders of the two parties come together on truly bipartisan legislation.”
Some of the bill’s highlights include:
- A provision, offered by Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., that would provide USDA with waiver authority in relation to a conservation easement program dealing with grasslands.
- A provision, offered by Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., that aims to address the increasing use of crops for biofuels.
- A provision, offered by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., that aims to ensure that conservation programs are assisting in the pollination process for honey bees.
- A provision, offered by Bennet, that would allow for a promotional check-off program for organic growers.
- A provision, offered by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., that would authorize an increase in funding by $20 million for the Rural Energy for America Program.
- A provision, offered by Klobuchar, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Heitkamp, that aims to support flood protection in the Red River Valley and help farmers deal with water management and watershed issues.
- A provisions, offered by Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., which would require the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation to carry out research and development regarding a crop insurance program for alfalfa.
- A provision, offered by Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., which seeks to modify a provision relating to funding of local and regional food aid procurement projects. The amendment would increase the authorization for the program from $40 million to $60 million annually.
The focus on the farm bill now moves to the House. The House never took up its farm bill on the floor last year, but is expected to debate legislation during the week of June 17. The House Agriculture Committee approved its bill May 15, and it includes a $20 billion reduction in nutrition spending.
An Agri-Pulse summary of the legislation can be found here.
For more news, go to www.agri-pulse.com