Farm Bill: Senate Process
Pete Kasperowicz reported on Friday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “The growing scandal about alleged security leaks from the Obama administration may well dominate next week, as Senate Republicans have vowed to push for a resolution seeking a special counsel to investigate.”
The update added that, “Before the leaks scandal, the Senate was preparing for what otherwise might have been a relatively calm week with the House not in session, giving senators time to make progress toward completing the farm bill. But even here, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will likely need to find a way around the seemingly endless requests for amendments.
“Reid has often spent more than a week or more just to arrange deals on amendments for much smaller bills. But the farm bill is a giant, five-year, 1,000-page instruction manual for U.S. farm policy — and on top of that, includes controversial language on crop insurance reform and other issues — making Reid’s task much more difficult.”
In an interview yesterday on C-SPAN, Senate Ag Committee Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) remarked on the amendment process and the Farm Bill and pointed out that, “The Chairwoman and I will be meeting on Monday, trying to determine if, in fact, we can restore the Senate back to the Senate and actually open it up for amendments from members and not get into the business of legislatively, you know, filling the tree.”
Meanwhile, an update posted on Friday at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) Blog stated that, “With the debate about to begin on the farm bill, Senators have started to file amendments both related and not related to the farm bill. As of Friday afternoon, over 80 amendments had been filed to the bill, and many more are expected to be filed at the beginning of next week. It is very unlikely that all of the filed amendments will be debated and voted on during the floor debate.
“The rules governing which amendments get considered are being negotiated by Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader McConnell (R-KY). There are a number of amendments that were filed that are not relevant to the farm bill. These ‘non-germane’ amendments are on hot-button political issues that could draw the debate on for several weeks. If Reid and McConnell can come to an agreement that would limit or eliminate non-germane amendments, and Senators abide by that rule, then consideration of the bill will continue without another procedural vote. The risk is that without a vote, Senators may disregard this agreement and bring up non-germane amendments anyway.”
Friday’s NSAC update noted that, “Chairman Lucas (R-OK) had been saying that the House Agriculture Committee would markup its version of the 2012 Farm Bill during the week of June 18. There have been hints, however, to indicate that he is preferring to wait until the Senate finishes debate on its version of the bill to move ahead with the House’s version. It is therefore starting to seem more likely that the House will markup its version of the bill the week of June 25.
“Currently, floor consideration of the farm bill is not on the House’s summer calendar. Senate passage of the bill may spur House leadership to consider adding the bill to its summer agenda. But that is far from a certainty.”
Farm Bill: Timing
Tom Lutey reported late last week at the Billings Gazette (Mont.) Online that, “With one in five Montana jobs tied to agriculture, the U.S. Senate’s work on the 2012 farm bill this month couldn’t be more crucial to the state’s economy, Sen. Max Baucus told lawmakers Thursday.
“‘It’s time to pass this farm bill,’ Baucus said. ‘If we wait too long, we run the risk of compromising the stability of American agriculture and our food supply.’”
Eric Brown reported in Saturday’s Greeley Tribune (Colo.) that, “Farm bill discussions on the U.S. Senate floor are ‘moving along as quickly and smoothly as had been hoped,’ according to Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and could be wrapped up within a couple weeks, he said.”
Clark Kaufman reported on Saturday at The Des Moines Register Online that, “Sen. Tom Harkin says he is optimistic that a half-trillion-dollar farm bill will be approved by Congress this summer.”
However, the article added that, “Congressional leaders agree that the two chambers will have to agree on a bill before the end of August if legislation is to be enacted before next year’s growing season.
“‘I think it’s going to get through the Senate next week,’ Harkin said. ‘Of course, the House version is – how can I say this? – dead on arrival. It’s not going to get anywhere. The huge cuts they made, for example, in the nutrition programs, are just not something we’re going to support. And neither is the administration. Even the Republicans in the Senate are not going to support the huge cuts.’”
In a related item, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) spoke on the Senate floor last week on the Farm Bill and highlighted nutrition programs and specifically addressed food stamp funding compared to other aspects of federal government spending- video here (3:23).
Farm Bill: Amendments
An update Friday at the Obama Foodorama Blog on the Farm Bill amendment process included a list of senators, in alphabetical order, and brief descriptions of the amendments they filed as of Thursday evening. As of yesterday evening, there were 90 amendments filed on S. 3240 (the Farm Bill).
A few of the amendments have garnered some media attention, or were the subject of recent news releases:
With respect to the House of Representatives and the Farm Bill, a news release Thursday from Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D., Calif.) stated that, “Today, [Rep. Cardoza] joined 58 of his colleagues in sending a letter to Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas and Ranking Member Collin Peterson urging the inclusion of H.R. 872, The Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act, in the 2012 Farm Bill currently being drafted in the House of Representatives. This bipartisan bill, which would reduce the federal regulatory burdens on farmers, ranchers, mosquito control districts, water districts, and other pesticide users was passed by the House last year but has yet to be approved by the Senate. It addresses a recent rule approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding the use of pesticides by providing a reasonable solution to pesticide application near bodies of water while avoiding duplicative regulation and preserving current safe, effective pest control standards and oversight.”
Farm Bill: Regional Issues
In an interview yesterday on C-SPAN, Jerry Hagstrom asked Senate Ag Committee Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R., Kan.), “The Southerners and some other farm groups are saying that the problem with this bill is that it doesn’t give farmers a protection against decrease in farm prices over several years. Could you address that issue?”
In part, Sen. Roberts noted that, “This is a more modern day approach to have a risk management effort to be the main protection for farmers, and then on top of that a very modest revenue program that, if your price over a five-year period would happen to go down, you do receive protection. Now is that a target price at a very high level? No. But with a high level of target prices then the farmer is farming for the government again, then you get into a WTO swamp and touch that stove, and as cotton found out – that’s a pretty hot stove.”
Also on this issue, Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) indicated yesterday during the C-SPAN interview that, “But we do have at minimum a number of different kinds of economic analysis and reports. People can disagree about them. But we have had two. One came out from the University of Missouri, a group called FAPRI, which does food and economic analysis, which looked at what we have done for cotton and what we have done through the Agricultural Risk Coverage Program for all the commodities and in fact said that we come out pretty even. I mean, cotton actually does better than all the rest of the commodities. But that it’s within a fair range on how it would work. And on the price end where we have heard a lot of concern, we also have from Ohio State a leading economist who had indicated, looking at the price issue, and what we use, a five-year Olympic average to look at it, that actually folks who are most concerned- in his analysis- would actually do better than other commodities, and actually rice would do better and be more protected on price. Now I know there’s some differences as to whether or not – you know, people can always disagree with economists. But I guess what I would say is what we have put in place, it’s fair to say, it’s fair for every commodity.”
McClatchy writer Franco Ordonez reported on Friday that, “Southern peanut growers stand in the way of a massive new farm bill that seeks to cut billions of dollars from the federal subsidy system.
“Farmers in North Carolina, Georgia and other Southern peanut-growing states charge they’ve been left out of a Senate proposal skewed in favor of Midwest corn and wheat growers.”
A report yesterday on National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition Sunday” noted that, “Like many southern farmers, [Donald] Chase objects to the version of the farm bill kicking around in the Senate this week. The bill aims to do away with direct payments to farmers by expanding crop insurance programs.
“But Chase says crop insurance doesn’t work for many Southern farmers, including those who plant cotton, rice, peanuts and even the feed corn he grows.”
Meanwhile, a news release Friday from the American Soybean Association stated that, “New analysis out this week from the University of Illinois suggests that a target price-based risk management program that could accompany the House Agriculture Committee’s version of the 2012 Farm Bill may offer a far more favorable safety net for some crops than for others, a prospect that worries the American Soybean Association (ASA).
“Gary Schnitkey, an agricultural economist at the University of Illinois, issued a study Tuesday showing the benefit to producers in each commodity group under the target price-based program included in the farm bill crafted by the House and Senate Agriculture Committees as part of the Super Committee process last fall. These target prices may serve as the starting point for the House Ag Committee’s proposal expected to be unveiled soon. In Schnitkey’s analysis, shown in the table below, target prices for soybeans and corn are significantly lower than those for other crops and the relative projected prices for each crop under the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) 10-year baseline. While soybean and corn target prices in the proposal would be set at 77 percent of projected prices, requiring a 23 percent drop in price before triggering a payment, target prices for rice and peanuts would be set at 106 percent of projected prices, triggering far more frequent payments.”
Farm Bill: Policy Provisions
In an interview yesterday on C-SPAN, Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow explained that, “We’re eliminating four subsidies, eliminating them. Now we are saving within the commodity title over $15 billion, $15-plus billion, real cuts, and moving to a system where farmers get a federal discount so they can help them purchase their insurance. They’re not getting – it’s not a subsidy. They’re not getting money in their pocket. It’s a partnership. They’re getting help to buy insurance. And they only receive the help if they have a loss. So if they’ve got a weather disaster, if they’ve got other kind of disaster that qualifies, they get help. But this is not a subsidy. This is a discount on crop insurance to help them be able to buy coverage. So they’ve got skin in the game.”
Chris Clayton reported yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “Agriculture will be in the spotlight in the new age of federal austerity as commodity groups, crop insurers and members of the Senate Agriculture Committee will seek to fend off means testing for crop-insurance premium subsidies.”
Mr. Clayton added that, “Kansas State University examined some of the affects of some of the means-testing amendments. The report noted for a married couple, the AGI limit would be $1.5 million.
“Under such an AGI limit, farmers would make changes in their business sales and expenses to ensure they remained under it, K-State agricultural economists noted. One possibility would be to restructure the farm such as a C corp for tax purposes.
“The report concludes that farmers making $750,000 would run a higher risk of not buying insurance and then there would be more calls for ad-hoc disaster assistance.”
Meanwhile, a news release last week from Sen. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.) noted that, “[Sen. Cantwell] urged leaders on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry to make the ‘Pulse Health Initiative’ a top priority in the upcoming 2012 Farm Bill as the legislation moves through the Senate. In a letter to the committee, Cantwell noted that the initiative would support research into the health and nutritional benefits of pulse crops, which include peas, lentils and chickpeas, and help increase public demand for the crops and create jobs.”
And, an article in the June edition of Amber Waves (USDA- ERS), “Private Industry Investing Heavily, and Globally, in Research To Improve Agricultural Productivity,” noted that:
“- In 2010, global private-sector investments in research and development (R&D) to improve agricultural inputs reached $11.0 billion, up from $5.6 billion in 1994.
“- R&D spending as a share of product sales exceeded 7 percent in the industries supplying crop protection chemicals, crop seed and biotechnology traits, animal health products, and animal breeding and genetic inputs to agriculture.”
Farm Bill: Opinion
A recent Kansas City Star editorial indicated that, “The measure would eliminate the direct-payments program begun in the 1990s and replace it with yet another insurance program for the big row crops — corn, wheat, soybeans, rice and cotton. But if prices fall and yields drop, the new program could mean Washington might end up paying even more.”
Debra J. Saunders noted in a column in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle that, “Alas, noted Citizens Against Government Waste spokeswoman Leslie Paige, ‘It’s like a Whac-A-Mole game with these programs.’ Goodbye, direct payments. Hello, new crop insurance subsidy.”
And The Washington Post editorial board noted in part today that, “The current bill achieves some reform. There is still much more to be done.”
Dallas Smith, a former USDA deputy under secretary for farm and foreign agricultural services, noted in a letter to the editor in Saturday’s New York Times that, “‘Where the Trough Is Overflowing’ (Deconstruction, editorial page, June 3) does a disservice to both America’s farmers, who feed an increasingly hungry world, and crop insurance, their primary risk management tool.
“There is one reason crop insurance has become the risk management tool of choice for most farmers and political leaders from both sides of the aisle: it works.”
Iowa farmer Michael Woltemath noted in a column last week at Agriculture.com that, “Stepping up is nothing new for agriculture. With a rising tide of debt caused by runaway spending flooding our country, agriculture offered up cuts to its policies to help get the country back on track.
“All told, more than $15 billion in spending was sacrificed, and ironically, more than $12 billion of that came from the crop insurance system that is in place to guard against things like floods. Crop insurance, which is purchased by individual farmers with some backing from the government and is serviced by efficient private companies, has become our most important risk management tool.
“But like the old saying goes: No good deed goes unpunished. Despite being one of the only industries to answer the budget bell for the country’s betterment, farmers are again in cutters’ sights.”
Mike Southcott, a crop insurance agent from New York state noted in a recent column at Agri-Pulse Online that, “Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has been a great advocate for the needy and for healthy eating, and it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that she’s doing everything she can to ensure that federal support for food stamp benefits are fully funded. Unfortunately, to pay for her recent amendment, she’s cutting the only viable risk management tool available to the very New York farmers who grow healthy food for the poor: crop insurance.”
“Funding reductions to the tune of $12 billion since 2008 have left crop insurance incredibly lean and incapable of meeting its challenges if further reductions are made,” Mr. Southcott noted.
An update late last week at National Journal Online stated that, “The two chambers have different visions of what a farm bill should look like, but that doesn’t mean the House is rooting against the Senate’s version. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said he is hoping that the Senate will pass a bill so he can persuade his leadership to give the House measure floor time. And with the House and Senate far apart on what they want out of the farm legislation, time is of the essence. Lucas sat down with National Journal to discuss the maneuvering. Edited excepts [can be found here.]”
An editorial over the weekend at The Olympian Online (Wash.) stated that, “Bipartisan bills have been introduced in the U.S. House and Senate to improve farm conditions each year for some 250 million egg-laying chickens.”
The opinion item added that, “The new standards are based on sound science. Chickens living in enriched environments experience lower mortality rates and higher production rates than chickens in tightly confined cages.
“The investment in new hen houses is a costly one – some $4 billion through 2030. But the phased-in approach should keep consumers from experiencing a major price hike in eggs.
“Congress should pass this bipartisan measure at the earliest possible time.”