House and Senate ag committees take action on new farm bill

WASHINGTON — The House and Senate Agriculture committees have both announced new versions of the farm bill they plan to revisit in coming weeks, with the potential for full congressional consideration over summer.

As of Monday, May 13, the Senate had scheduled its markup of the bill for May 14, while the House planned to do the same May 15.

The bills are similar in nature to what both committees proposed in 2012, before the bill died in the House. They include a price protection program for dairy farmers, and have gained widespread support among the major ag organizations.

“It’s a responsible and balanced bill that addresses Americans’ concerns about federal spending and reforms farm and nutrition policy to improve efficiency and accountability,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., in a released statement.

Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said the bill the House has drafted “sets us on a path to finally completing a five-year farm bill. Peterson said the House bill resembles the bipartisan bill passed by the agriculture committee last summer, including reforms to dairy programs.

What’s included

The House version saves nearly $40 billion in mandatory funds, repeals or consolidates more than 100 programs, eliminates direct payments (which farmers had received regardless of market conditions), reforms commodity policy, saves more than $20 billion in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.The bill also consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13, and builds on previous investments in fruit and vegetable production and farmers markets.

Senate version

Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said the Senate’s version of the bill represents “the most significant reform of American agriculture policy in decades.”In a released statement, she said the bill ends unnecessary subsidies, streamlines and consolidates programs and cracks down on abuse, while reducing the deficit by billions. The Senate farm bill would yield a total of $23 billion in cuts to agriculture programs (including cuts made due to the sequester).

The bill would end direct payments and place more emphasis on private sector risk management, cap remaining risk management support at $50,000, end farm payments to nonfarmers, strengthen crop insurance and include disaster relief policy, consolidate 23 conservation programs into 13, increase accountability among SNAP recipients, and continue to support diverse ag enterprises like local foods, bio-energy and rural development.

Milk perspective

Jerry Kozak, president of National Milk Producers Federation, said the organization is pleased that the farm bill unveiled by the House (and Senate) agriculture committee contains dairy program reform provisions based on the Dairy Security Act. They are the same provisions that were included in last year’s bill that the House ag committee approved.

Kozak said the DSA updates the “badly frayed” dairy safety net, and it enjoys strong support among dairy farmers nationwide.

“The alternative to the DSA, expected to be offered by Reps. (Bob) Goodlatte and (Bobby) Scott, is unfortunately not fiscally responsible and could return us to the bad old days of huge price-depressing dairy surpluses,” he said in a released statement.

Partly pleased

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said he is pleased to see that target price protection was included in the bill.“The inclusion of stronger protection against long-term price collapse for all commodities in all regions is also a step in the right direction,” he said in a released statement. “The strong support for crop insurance is also a positive element for U.S. family farmers and ranchers for when natural disasters strike.”

But Johnson said NFU is “deeply disappointed” that the energy title has no mandatory funding for programs “that are critical to our country’s energy independence” and ending our reliance upon foreign oil.He also criticized the cuts to SNAP.

“Just as farm safety net programs are important for farmers facing hardship, nutrition programs provide critical assistance to consumers in difficult times,” he said. “I encourage the House to strongly consider a more moderate approach when reducing funding for programs that help the food insecure in this country.”

The 2008 farm bill expired in September of 2012. Congress approved an extension through Sept. 30, 2013. Ag organizations say it is important to get a new five-year bill done before the current bill expires.

About the Author

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties. More Stories by Chris Kick

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