Carolyn Lochhead, writing in Saturday’s San Francisco Chronicle, reported that, “The five-year, $286 billion farm bill that passed the House on Friday angered Bay Area food and environmental advocates who hoped to make the farm bill into a food bill, but they now turn their aim to the Senate to try to shift billions of dollars in crop subsidies to conservation, organics and local farm markets.”
The article added that, “Back home, progressives lashed out at the speaker, saying her reforms would lavish $1 billion on 13,000 California rice growers over the next three years — 10 times more than the $100 million allocated for conservation in the state.”
As attention turns to the Senate, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and others will play a pivotal role (FarmPolicy Photo).
Later, Ms. Lochhead explained that, “At a time of near record prices, reformers argued that lowering crop payments to wealthy landowners and agribusinesses would curb these distortions and free up money for conservation and food programs that would benefit more farmers and improve the health of Americans.
“They are turning their effort to the Senate, where the Agriculture Committee, as in the House, is dominated by those who support the status quo that benefits subsidized crops. But its chairman, Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, is friendlier to conservation and nutrition programs than his House counterpart, Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, and supports tougher payment limits.
“Farm politics usually break along regional, rather than party lines. But that has begun to shift, with many farm-state politicians beginning to rebel against the decades-old crop support systems. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, proposed a radical change in farm subsidies this week, dismissing the ‘old-time religion’ of crop price support.”
Brownfield’s Peter Shinn reported on Friday that, “Most ag and commodity groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and National Farmers Union (NFU), praised House passage of the farm bill. And NFU President Tom Buis told Brownfield lawmakers had little choice in the measure’s revenue-generating provision.
“‘You know, the money had to come from somewhere – everyone knew it,’ Buis said. ‘And just for it to appear by magic wasn’t going to happen.’
“Indeed, AFBF Director of Congressional Relations Mary Kay Thatcher told Brownfield Farm Bureau backed the House version of the farm bill regardless of its funding mechanism. And AFBF Chief Economist Bob Young echoed the assessment of Buis on the farm bill’s funding language.
“‘If you wanted to provide an extra $2.5 to $3 billion for energy, if you wanted to provide another $4 or $5 billion for nutrition programs, then, you know, you’ve got to go get the money some place,’ Young explained.”
DTN’s Chris Clayton provided a more detailed recap on differing perspectives and reactions to the House passed bill in an update posted yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog.
There, Mr. Clayton noted that, “Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, stated this House farm bill will be remembered as a missed opportunity for reform of federal farm policies that are broken at their core. It also represents a failure of House leadership to serve the broader needs of the nation, instead of taking their cues at every turn from the farm subsidy lobby. This bill will not bear the scrutiny of passing time. We’re talking about mid-August, at the latest.
“National Corn Growers Association President Ken McCauley, while crediting the House for defending the safety net and moving the process forward, said the corn growers are looking ahead to the Senate debate – where NCGA is excited about the Farm Safety Net Improvement Act of 2007 introduced by Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
“National Cattlemen’s Beef Association gave the bill a mixed review. There were improvements for cattlemen – such as increased funding for conservation programs and some modest fixes to the mandatory country-of-origin labeling law – but applying the adjusted gross income cap and tighter payment limitations for conservation makes many ranchers and feeders ineligible for conservation programs.”
And Congressional Quarterly writer David Clarke implicitly noted that the Farm Bill has become part of a larger issue between Democrats and the GOP in Congress; “When the Democrats took over the majority earlier this year, the House adopted its pay-as-you-go rule. The Senate followed suit in May with the adoption of the fiscal 2008 budget resolution.
“Democrats have been taking heat from the GOP over the ways in which they so far have tried to offset spending, particularly provisions intended to boost tax revenue from corporations.
“Republicans say Democrats are proving that they are a party of tax-and-spenders.
“‘The tax increases just keep on coming,’ House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said last week.”
However, the CQ article added that, “Democrats dismiss GOP criticism by noting that the nation’s debt grew by $3 trillion during the Bush presidency in part because GOP leaders did not offset expensive programs like the Medicare prescription drug plan.”
On Saturday, Sacramento Bee writer Michael Doyle provided an interesting look at the House Farm Bill in a Q & A format.
In part, Mr. Doyle stated that, “Q: Who are the big winners?
“A: Specialty crops, certainly. This means fruits, vegetables, wine grapes — everything not covered by traditional crop subsidies. The bill counts some $1.7 billion over five years for specialty crops.
“This is roughly quadruple the amount authorized in the last farm bill, in 2002. It would pay for research, school lunch purchases, promotion campaigns and more. It’s also a long-term victory for industry groups like the Western Growers Association, because this gets specialty crops into future farm bills as well.”
“Q: Who are the big losers?
“A: Self-styled reformers lost big. So did bipartisanship, at least temporarily. Late Thursday night, the House by a 309-117 vote soundly rejected a sweeping proposal to further cut subsidies and provide more for nutrition and conservation.
“Critics also couldn’t stop the House bill from boosting subsidy payments that individual farmers could receive.”
Philip Brasher, writing in Sunday’s Des Moines Register provided a closer look at potential Senate Farm Bill action.
Mr. Brasher reported that, “To fund the House bill, Peterson slashed $4.8 billion from Harkin’s personal priority, the Conservation Security Program, which rewards farmers for improved environmental practices. As a result, no farmer would be allowed to sign up for the program until 2012.
“So Harkin, the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, will have to find money somewhere to fund the program or else undo the Peterson-crafted package that is popular with farm groups.
“‘For someone to put together a bill that can garner more support will be very difficult,’ said former Texas Rep. Charles Stenholm, a livestock industry lobbyist who was the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee when the current farm bill was written.”
Mr. Brasher added that, “Mary Kay Thatcher, a lobbyist for the American Farm Bureau Federation, said some version of the House bill is likely to be the key alternative to whatever Harkin proposes. There’s no chance, she said, that Harkin can get his committee to slash grain and cotton subsidies to fund the Conservation Security Program.”
As noted in the San Francisco Chronicle article cited at the top of today’s FarmPolicy update, with respect to Senate Farm Bill action, not all media attention is focused on Chairman Harkin.
In more local coverage, Bruce Rushton reported in Thursday’s State Journal Register (Springfield, IL), “The federal farm subsidy program needs fundamental reform, not just renewal, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin [D-Illinois] said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters.
“Under a bill introduced Wednesday by the Springfield Democrat and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, price supports for commodities such as corn and soybeans would be replaced by a revenue-based program that takes yield into account. The idea is to create a safety net that protects farmers when prices are high but harvests are poor. Subsidies in the current farm bill are based on price targets alone.
“‘I think some of the answers of the past don’t apply today,’ Durbin said. ‘Our job today is to make sure farmers can survive a bad year. What Sen. Brown and I are talking about is a new approach.’”
The SJR article indicated that, “Besides eliminating subsidies based on price alone, the senators called for strict limits on subsidies for wealthy producers.
“‘I think the farm payments should be limited to those in real need,’ Durbin said. ‘We know that there are farming operations that have become large businesses that can weather storms. There are clearly some cases that just came out of the news that are embarrassing.’”
Back in January of this year, Sen. Durbin hosted a Farm Bill listening session here in Illinois at a farm operation just south of Niantic.
To view a recap of that session, and to listen to a very brief exchange I had with Sen. Durbin about disaster aid and revenue insurance, just click here (pardon the background noise).
And in Ohio, Margie Trax Page reported in Saturday’s Star Beacon that, “Ohio U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, touted legislation aimed at improving the 2007 farm bill Wednesday in a news-conference call with Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin, also a Democrat
“Brown and Durbin hope to incorporate the proposed Farm Safety-Net Improvement Act of 2007 into the 2007 Farm bill, which would protect commodity farmers’ livelihoods better, Brown said.
“The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act, which initially was implemented during the Great Depression to give American farmers a safety net if the market bottomed out again, is up for a Senate vote in September. Each Farm act expires after five years. The last Farm bill was passed in 2002. Brown said America’s changing agriculture industry has outgrown past legislation. He introduced the Farm Safety-Net Improvement Act to cover agricultural losses in crop yields, as well as in market prices.”
For more information on the Durbin-Brown proposal, just click here.
In international perspective on the House bill, Anne Davies and Jewel Topsfield reported on Saturday at The Age Online (Australia) that, “Australian wheat, cotton, beef and sugar farmers were dealt a blow last night with the US Congress preparing to increase its massive farm subsidies program for another five years, despite warnings that this was inconsistent with free trade principles.”
The article noted that, “Federal Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran said Australia had argued that the US should put greater emphasis on income payments to farmers rather than production subsidies.
“‘If they want to boost the income of farmers, that’s different to subsidising production, which gives the US an inherent advantage over countries like Australia which don’t have subsidies,’ he said.”