Jim Harger reported yesterday at Michigan Live Online that, “U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow is confident her colleagues in the Senate will pass the Farm Bill her committee has been working on for the past two years.
“The Michigan Democrat said she is not as sure about the U.S. House, where some conservatives and the ‘tea party wing’ of the Republican caucus don’t believe a Farm Bill is needed, Stabenow said during a visit to a Sparta apple orchard Tuesday, May 28.
“‘The problem has always been folks who don’t think we should be helping farmers at all,’ said Stabenow, who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.”
Joshua Chaffin and James Politi reported last week at The Financial Times Online that, “The faultlines over a proposed EU-US trade agreement came into sharp focus on Thursday as the European Parliament backed French demands to exclude cultural fare from a pact as US farmers blasted Europe’s safety standards as protectionist.
“The contrasting positions were a reminder of the entrenched disagreements that negotiators will have to overcome if they are to deliver an agreement that has received political backing at the highest levels on both sides of the Atlantic.
“The two sides are hoping to begin negotiations in July for an agreement that is being counted on to boost economic growth on both sides of the Atlantic and be a benchmark for the technical and legal standards for future trade agreements.”
DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “A push in the U.S. Senate to repeal current sugar policiesfailed again on Wednesday as senators moved ahead with votes on amendments.
“Senators seeking to overhaul sugar policies argued in vain that food-processing and confectionary jobs are lost to Canada because of import restrictions and tariffs that protect a small number of domestic sugar growers. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., the lead sponsor of the amendment, argued that sugar was the only commodity in the farm bill that wasn’t seeing reforms.
“‘Sugar remains the most tightly controlled commodity market in this country,’ Shaheen said.”
A video replay of arguments in favor of the amendment from Sens. Shaheen and Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) made yesterday on the Senate floor can be seen here and here. In addition, the American Sugar Alliance released a short video outlining arguments supporting current policy principles.
A large number of amendments have been filed to the 2013 Farm Bill (S.954). Yesterday, senators discussed the broad based legislation for a second day on the Senate floor, while considering four of the amendments to the measure.
Two of the amendments passed easily. An update yesterday afternoon at the Senate Democrats Online discussed the two amendments, one that was proposed by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.) (amendment #919 regarding Indian tribes – land and soil conservation programs) and the other by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) (amendment #945, as modified eligibility criteria for agriculture irrigation assistance).
And Ramsey Cox reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “The Senate began amendment work Tuesday on a five-year farm bill, passing the first amendment with broad bipartisan support.
“The Senate voted 87-8 to accept an amendment introduced by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). Her amendment would allow Indian tribes to participate in soil and water conservation programs…[A]fter the vote on Cantwell’s amendment, the Senate also approved Sen. Jeff Sessions’ (R-Ala.) amendment, which aims to clarify the eligibility criteria for those who qualify for agriculture irrigation assistance. His amendment was passed by voice vote.”
In contrast, two separate amendments that were related to the politically controversial nutrition program, which is the largest component of Farm Bill spending, both failed yesterday.
Yesterday afternoon, the Senate proceeded to consider the Farm Bill (S.954).
“Democrats and Republicans disagree on many things. So it’s really remarkable and encouraging to see how well Senators Stabenow and Senator Cochran — the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee — worked together to bring the agriculture jobs bill to the floor. Their work has been exemplary — some would say old-fashioned — the way things used to be,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said yesterday.
“In an effort to expedite the floor process, the committee even included many of the amendments that were adopted last year, when the Senate considered and passed a farm bill. I hope their cooperative spirit guides our work on this important legislation. American farmers are counting on us. So is the economy,” Leader Reid noted; while adding that, “But to keep American farms strong, Congress must pass a strong farm bill.”
A floor schedule update posted recently at the Senate Democrats webpage indicated that, “The Senate stands in adjournment until 2:00pm on Monday, May 20, 2013. Following any Leader remarks, the Senate will be in a period of morning business until 3:00pm.
“Following morning business, the Senate will proceed to the consideration of S.954, the Farm bill.”
Also on Friday, The Mississippi Business Journal Blog reported that, “Politics, agriculture, and the economy were the hot topics on a rainy Delta morning as hundreds gathered for the 78th annual meeting of Delta Council, Friday, May 17, on the campus of Delta State University…[F]ollowing the business session of the annual meeting, United States Senator Thad Cochran introduced United States Senator from Michigan and Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Nutrition Debbie Stabenow as the featured speaker.”
In a telenews conference with reporters yesterday, Senate Ag. Comm. Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) commented on how quickly the panel’s Farm Bill will move from the Committee to the Senate floor: “I don’t know if this is a record, but it’s got to be one of the — possible records for getting a bill from committee on to the floor for consideration, so I’m very pleased about that…after coming out of the committee with 15 to five strong bipartisan vote, we did not have objection to moving to the bill, and there are very few things that have occurred this year, or in — in over the last number of years, that did not require a motion to proceed, and several days of waiting, and a cloture vote, and so on, in order to get to the bill.
“We did not have to do that, there was not an objection to going to the bill, and I hope that bodes well for — for moving things through next week.”
Later, Chairwoman Stabenow indicated that, “We’re going to start debate, and we’ll be moving on amendments, you know, as quickly as possible. So I absolutely expect to be on amendments next week, and you know, urging people now to put their amendments together, let them know — let us know what they are so we can work with them.”
Farm Bill: House Agriculture Committee Advances Legislation
DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday that, “The battle over dairy policy took center stage in the House Agriculture Committee’s early debate on the farm bill Wednesday as committee reforms to commodity and conservation programs were approved relatively unscathed.”
Mr. Clayton explained that, “Debate in the House put dairy policy front and center. The farm bill includes language from the Dairy Security Act, crafted by ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., following the collapse of dairy prices in 2009. Peterson and others worked to successfully get the dairy act into both the House and Senate versions of the bill. The Dairy Security Act creates a margin protection between national milk prices and the average cost of feed. Producers get basic coverage and can buy higher coverage if they want. At the same time, the provision has more controversial language that creates a market stabilization program meant to manage the size of the national dairy herd.
“The market stabilization program kicks in when dairy prices are low and profit margins collapse. Producers whose herd size exceeds a base amount would lose payments unless they culled down the size of their milking herd.”
DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “The markup of the Senate version of the farm bill translated into few substantive changes in the legislation, but Tuesday’s three-and-a-half-hour debate highlighted the philosophical and regional split among Republicans over target prices.
“The bill, formally named the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013, passed out of committee early Tuesday afternoon on a vote of 15-5. Four Republicans [Roberts, Thune, Johanns, McConnell] and one Democrat [Gillibrand] voted against it.
“Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., told reporters afterward that floor debate on the Senate farm bill could begin as early as Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the bill will come up immediately after the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) is finished. Final votes on that bill are expected Wednesday.”
In part, the North Dakota Democrat stated that, “I think first off we want to make sure that we have adequate resources to address the needs of rural infrastructure, and so the farm bill is a critical component, as it sets forth what, in fact, should be in that line item. And I think the first, most critical thing is making sure that we maintain a level of economic support for rural development.
“Beyond that I think it’s taking a look at housing, taking a look at critical infrastructure within rural communities, and how we can continue to make those vibrant, thriving communities so that we can maintain our family farm agriculture and make sure that these are communities that can attract some of the best and brightest Americans and kids from North Dakota farms who want to come back home. So to me it’s about retention and about expansion of economic opportunities in rural areas.”
In discussing the link of a profitable agricultural sector to rural development, Sen. Heitkamp pointed out, “And so to me it’s not just about production agriculture. That’s the beginning. That’s what we do. Ninety percent of the land in North Dakota is used in production agriculture, and that’s huge. And it is a huge driver of our economy.
“But if you’re going to look at how we stabilize our economy, it’s that next step in rural development. It’s the next step in taking our commodity goods and transforming them right here in our state. It is taking a look at what we can do for export enhancement. It’s taking a look at what we can do in research, which are also two critical issues for me in this farm bill.”
After talking briefly about the energy production, where Sen. Heitkamp explained that, “we need to apply the same principles that we’ve done in value-added agriculture to value-added energy, and make sure that we’re getting the maximum amount of profitability out of the products that we produce,” she addressed a key issue in the Farm Bill debate: crop insurance.
“[The] crop insurance program is essential to food security in our country,” she said, “it does, in fact, guarantee a steady supply of food in this country.”
Sen. Heitkamp also stated yesterday that, “I think that the Senate will definitely pass a farm bill out of the Senate before this extension expires.”
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.), who chairs the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Jobs, Rural Economic Growth and Energy Innovation, indicated in a column yesterday at The Dickinson Press (N.D.) Online that, “This week, I am working with other members of the Senate Agriculture Committee to draft a five-year farm bill…[T]he farm bill I am working to draft will provide growers with the support they need to survive the tough years and thrive in the good ones. Specifically, the Senate draft of the farm bill authorizes a new commodity program called Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC).”
Sen. Heitkamp explained that, “This program will kick in when farmers lose money — from either yield losses or price collapse — to provide modest payments to help cover some of the losses they experience. It utilizes a market-oriented approach to adjust support when prices are high to keep pace with increased costs in inputs. It will also track with the market and pay growers on historical production to prevent the policy from influencing planting decisions. ARC will work in concert with the Federal Crop Insurance Program to allow growers to mitigate the variety of risks they face each year.
“As the risks pile up for American growers, it is critical our nation strengthens its commitment to a strong domestic agricultural economy. American farmers are some of the most efficient and productive farmers in the world, which is why the American agricultural system is the envy of the world. But in order for that to remain the case, we need to continue to make modest investments to the farm safety net to support farmers in North Dakota and throughout the country.”
David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “A new drafted Farm Bill, released by the Senate Agriculture Committee late Thursday [full draft, summary], reflects concessions to powerful pork and beef lobbies as well as an effort to secure Southern Republican votes with target prices for rice and peanut producers.
“The Midwest Corn Belt would retain its costly new Agricultural Risk Coverage program—which was the mainstay of the commodity title approved last summer by the Senate in the last Congress. But the ARC payments have been trimmed back modestly and more importantly, the standard index changed from a five-month average market price to the 12-month average.
“This should reduce the costs to the government based on a typical marketing year. But even more importantly, it will also push ARC payments into the next fiscal year since the average 12-month marketing price for corn, for example, won’t be known until past Sept 30.”
AP writer Steve Karnowski reported yesterday that, “An influential Minnesota voice on agricultural policy said Wednesday that he’s hopeful Congress will pass a new farm bill this summer after efforts last year failed amid election year politics.
“U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, threatened earlier this year to sit out the process of writing a new farm bill unless he got a guarantee from House Republican leaders that they’d let the legislation come up for a floor vote this time. Peterson told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he’s now ‘fairly comfortable’ with the assurances he’s received from Speaker John Boehner and others, so his name will be on the bill when it’s unveiled later this week.”
The article noted that, “Peterson said Boehner made it clear to him in their recent discussions that ‘he wanted to get this over with.’ And he noted that Majority Leader Eric Cantor said late last week that the House will vote on it this summer. Peterson said he’s optimistic that he and Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., will be able to keep the bill close to what the committee passes and get it into a conference committee where they’ll resolve the differences with the Democratic-controlled Senate’s version.
“The Senate’s version won’t cut SNAP as much as the House version, and Peterson said they’ll need to work out that difference. But he said he expects the most difficult problem to reconcile will be the different approaches between the House and Senate bills toward restructuring crop subsidy programs.”
Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported yesterday that, “Congress will begin writing a new, $500 billion farm law next week, the head of the Senate Agriculture Committee said on Tuesday, even as calls mounted for deeper cuts in farm subsidies and food stamp spending.
“The Senate panel has scheduled a bill-drafting session for May 14. Its House of Representatives counterpart, unofficially, aims to start writing its version on May 15.”
Mr. Abbott noted that, “Senate Agriculture chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan, has said the Senate bill would cut farm bill outlays by $23 billion over 10 years. The House bill is expected to aim for savings of $35 billion over a decade.”
“Stabenow’s proposal would shave $4 billion from food stamps, compared with the $20 billion that House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas, an Oklahoma Republican, has targeted,” yesterday’s article said.