Farm bill 2014: National Milk says Dairy Security Act dead, looking at other options

January 20th, 2014 Chris Kick

SALEM, Ohio — The head of the National Milk Producers Federation said Jan. 16 that the organization is conceding its effort to get a Dairy Security Act passed in the new farm bill.

The DSA was approved by the House and Senate Ag Committees, and in the Senate farm bill of 2013, but it appears the act will go no further.

“Unfortunately, the (House) speaker’s threat that he would not allow a vote on a farm bill containing the market stabilization program (DSA) has effectively served to kill our proposal within the committee,” said NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern, in a released statement.

Biggest issue

The NMPF announcement highlighted congressional action on the farm bill, which has been in conference mode since Oct. 30, with very few details shared with media.

The Dairy Security Act sought to provide farmers a form of margin protection when the margin between the cost of feed, and the price paid to farmers for milk — became too narrow. The act also would have helped control supply and demand and prevent supply from out-pacing demand too heavily.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was among the act’s biggest critics, calling the proposal “soviet-style.”

Another policy

With the setback, NMPF is trying to find a new way to ensure dairy producers have an effective safety net, and that they can avoid disasters like the dairy market collapse of 2009.

“We are now engaged in discussions with agriculture committee staff on an alternative approach to creating a dairy safety net that would contain inducements to help achieve a supply-demand balance and prevent catastrophic milk price collapses like we experienced in 2009,” Mulhern continued.

He said it is conceivable that an alternative dairy policy could be developed, relying upon adjustments to the DSA’s margin insurance payout structure and participant premium rates, among other options.

NMPF had worked on the DSA for four years. Mulhern argued the DSA provided an effective, voluntary safety net for all of the nation’s dairy farmers and said it protected taxpayers from the possibility of excessive costs.

Looking ahead

There had been rumors that the conferees were close to reaching an agreement last week (Jan. 18), but even at the earliest, it will still be a week or more before the full Congress could vote.

The House and Senate were both out for Martin Luther King Day and will not return until Jan. 27.

In other matters, Washington media continue to report that cuts to food stamps will likely be about $8-$9 billion.

This is double the $4 billion in cuts the Senate had approved in its 2013 farm bill, and is considerably less than the $39 billion in cuts that the House had approved.

It’s clear the farm bill needs overhaul

December 24th, 2013 Judith Sutherland

Waiting is sometimes what farmers have had to learn to do best. Waiting for fields to dry. Waiting for rain. Waiting for heifers to calve. Waiting for a killing frost, driving moisture content down before going full-tilt in to harvest.

Waiting, now, for the House and the Senate to get back to work on the farm bill.

With the House and Senate now on the long holiday recess, there is no hope of passing a new farm bill until mid-January, if then. For our entire lifetime, problems within this bill have been brewing similar to an enormous volcano, in large part because the farm bill harkens back to the Truman administration.

Needs overhaul

With the House proposing $40 billion in cuts and the Senate proposing $4 billion in cuts, it appears we all have been waiting too long for the policy makers to realize something major needs to be changed with the entire structure of the farm bill.

An enormous glitch, which seems so obvious it almost goes without saying, is that policy set for farm subsidies and rural development projects is tied together with the massive food stamp program, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

It is the $80 billion per year food stamp program that has, in very large part, stalled the renewal of the nation’s farm bill.

A single young woman told me a friend urged her to sign up for food stamp assistance. She balked for awhile, knowing it would likely take many months and waiting in long lines to prove her need. Unable to find a full-time job, leaning on her parents for help, she managed to get by, taking on a second part-time job, watching her spending, eating very little.

One day, a married co-worker with children said she was finally being forced to sign up for SNAP after her husband lost his part-time job, so the two women went together.

“Oh my gosh, it was so easy. It was ridiculously easy. There is no doubt in my mind that is one huge program that needs overhauled,” Ally said.

More than ‘farm’ bill

The irony of this is that lack of passage of a farm bill could distort many food costs for all, though we will not see doubling milk prices in the stores as people feared, since the House voted Dec. 12 to extend the 2008 farm bill through January, which also suspends permanent price supports.

Eventually, though, lack of funding for production of corn and sugar beets could drive up many other food costs.

As farmers attempt to plan their spring planting, much remains up in the air.

Changes in eligibility and work requirements are two things that have been mentioned in discussions of the need for change within SNAP. There is no doubt serious changes are needed.

In a perfect world, no one would need assistance. People who are willing to work hard would be paid well enough to put food on the table, and supply and demand would balance the scales for family farmers, who wouldn’t have to compete against mega-corporate agribusiness.

We can dream, because dreaming is still free!

No farm bill in 2013, officials eye January for next action

December 17th, 2013 Chris Kick

WOOSTER, Ohio — The U.S. House of Representatives voted Dec. 12 to extend the 2008 farm bill through January, after the bipartisan conference committee failed to come up with an end-of-year deal on a new bill.

The House broke for its holiday recess Dec. 13 and the Senate will do the same in a matter of days. The bill has been sent to the Senate, but it is unclear what, if any action, may be taken.

The extension suspends “permanent price supports,” meaning there will be no doubling of the milk price in stores.

Washington media reports say that Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who is chairwoman of the Senate Ag Committee, is opposed to another extension. Instead, work is expected to continue  on the conference, when Congress returns in January.

What’s happening.

Meanwhile, farm policy experts are taking their best shots at understanding what’s going on, and how it might all end.

At the annual Ohio State University Ag Outlook and Policy Meeting Dec. 12 in Wooster, Ohio, OSU farm policy expert Carl Zulauf said there are three likely outcomes: The conference committee agrees on a new law; the committee fails to agree and the 2008 farm bill is extended one to two years, most likely with cuts to direct payments; or, the most unlikely outcome, the committee fails to agree and there is no farm bill, commodity programs would end and permanent law would be repealed.

Zulauf has traveled the state talking about the farm bill — mostly making sure people understand the debate and how the process works.

“There’s a lot of things that people misunderstand about conference,” he said.

The basics

First, the conference is not bound by previous bills passed by the House or Senate. The conferees can shape new policy, but it must pass by a majority of the Senate and a majority of House members.

While the process has been cumbersome, Zulauf said progress is being made. He expects an agreement mid-January.

Battle points

The holdup remains the battle over food stamp funding, and funding for farm safety nets.

The nutrition titles, which include food stamps, account for between 70 and 80 percent of the bill. The Senate seeks to cut about $4 billion in the new bill, while the House is going for nearly $40 billion.

It’s hard to say what amount of cuts the conference will agree upon, but Zulauf said “it’s got to be much closer to the Senate side than to the House side.”

The Senate and President Barack Obama have both said they will oppose major cuts to food stamps.

But an equally important issue, and possibly more so, is the battle over farm safety nets.

“I see the crop safety net as the real bottleneck to getting a bill done,” Zulauf said.

While the current bills seek to end direct payments, they would continue subsidies for crop insurance, and other programs that protect against loss.

Safety nets

The question of deciding what to protect, and how much, is philosophical, Zulauf said, and is hard to find compromise.

“Should the market decide, ultimately, and only what is produced, or do we have a responsibility to help crops that are seeing their market shares dramatically decline,” he asked. “These are deeply philosophical questions. And the problem is with philosophical questions is somebody wins and somebody loses. There is no middle ground and it is very hard to get creative compromises on philosophical questions.”

Currently, about 62 percent of farmers’ crop insurance premiums are subsidized.

Zulauf advised farmers to be sure they have enough coverage going forward, and to keep up with any changes to the program.

He said the last five years, crop insurance has generally covered the cost of production — but historically — that has not been the case.

Even at 85 percent coverage, he said farmers may not be insuring enough to cover their costs.

“Be very careful about assuming insurance will cover your cost of production,” he said.

Zulauf said most farmers have already made their planting decisions for next year. He said the probability of an extension, as opposed to a new bill, will become greater if the debate continues past mid-January.

Eleventh hour for farm bill negotiations

December 11th, 2013 Chris Kick

SALEM, Ohio — The 50-50 chance of Congress passing a farm bill this year is quickly losing ground, as lawmakers are once again about out of time.

The House is tentatively planning to break for the holidays beginning Dec. 13, meaning there could only be a day or two left to act.

As of Dec. 10 — the day Farm and Dairy went to print — House and Senate conferees were still not in agreement. There were reports of positive strides from both chambers, but no details.

The history

The conference committee, which began meeting Oct. 30, includes Ohio Democrat, Sen. Sherrod Brown, as well as Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. The committee is chaired by Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla.

Lucas still sees an end-of-year agreement possible, according to Washington media, but is prepared for a January extension.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said he would support a one-month extension of the 2008 farm bill, if necessary.

Blame game. Boehner spoke during a news conference Dec. 3, where he blamed Senate Democrats for stalling the bill.

“Chairman Lucas has made a number of good-faith efforts; we can’t get Senate Democrats to the point of saying ‘yes,’” he said.

But the Senate did say “yes” twice over the last two years, passing bipartisan five-year farm bills that were either voted down in the House, or not considered.

The 2008 farm bill was extended at the beginning of 2013, to run through Sept. 30, following a similar congressional battle at the end of 2012.

New terms

It’s difficult to say what the House now wants Senate Democrats to say “yes” to, because terms of negotiation are being kept confidential.

But cuts to food stamp funding and commodity title reforms have been the biggest issues of contention.

See also: U.S. Sen. Shrrod Brown spoke about the farm bill at the Ohio Farm Bureau meeting.

Key differences

The House bill calls for about $39 billion in cuts to food stamps over 10 years, compared to just $4 billion by the Senate.

The House and Senate also disagree over the safety net program for dairy farmers.

Both the House and Senate bill’s replace current dairy programs with a risk management program based on the margin difference between the price of milk and feed.

The difference is, the Senate contains a provision to control milk supply by encouraging supply reductions when margins are especially low.

Dairy perspective

The National Milk Producers Federation continues to support the Senate plan, which NMPF says would actually cost about $100 million less than the House plan, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

The CRS analysis put the 10-year cost of the Senate dairy program at $302 million above current programs, and the more-costly House language at $418 above the current baseline.

“Without the market stabilization program to both reduce the duration of low margin conditions, and reduce government outlays … the House plan would be a budget-buster — and one that we urge the conferees to reject,” said NMPF’s new president, Jim Mulhern, in a released statement.

Consumer prices?

Mulhern also discounted reports the Senate plan would cause the price of consumer dairy products to increase.

“The purpose of market stabilization is to keep farmers’ milk prices from staying too low, for too long,” Mulhern said. “Any suggestion that it will spike retail prices to abnormally high levels is a deceitful and deliberate misinterpretation of the studies done on the impact of the (two bills).”

Another point of contention is the Protect Interstate Commerce Act, or King amendment, named for Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa. This amendment would prohibit “trade protectionism,” preventing a state from making laws that would ban agricultural products produced in another state, on the basis of how those products were produced.

The amendment is in response to states like California, which have recently passed laws that would ban farm products from being sold in their state, if they don’t meet the state’s standard for production.

States could still keep and set new standards within their own boundaries, but could not impose those standards on farmers outside their state.

“Any state, including California, is free to regulate and even over-regulate their producers, but not to regulate the other 49 states,” King said during farm bill conference.

Animal rights organizations, on the other hand, oppose the King amendment because they say it goes against the humane farming movement.

What happens

Should the conferees fail to reach an agreement by year’s end, it could potentially cause the implementation of a 1940s pricing policy known as “permanent agricultural law,” which would cause a doubling of government subsidies for dairy products, and a major distortion in the consumer market.

Estimates are that milk alone would jump to $7 a gallon, and there is fear that such high prices would cause farmers to sell to the government. The price for other foods, including beef, would soon be affected as well.

“The inability to get a farm bill in place will touch every household in the U.S., starting with ramping up the price of our milk to eventually increasing the sticker prices on a variety of foods,” said Kathryn Boor, dean of Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Boor’s comments were made in a Dec. 4 news release, in which she reiterated the thought on a lot of people’s minds.

“It’s time to put politics behind us and focus on the things that matter: Improving the quality of life for our citizens,” she said.

Popular farm bill conservation program seeks producer participation

December 10th, 2013 Other News

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is opening the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) for new enrollments for federal fiscal year 2014. Starting today through Jan. 17, 2014, producers interested in participating in the program can submit applications to NRCS.

“Through the Conservation Stewardship Program, farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners are going the extra mile to conserve our nation’s resources,” NRCS Chief Jason Weller said. “Through their conservation actions, they are ensuring that their operations are more productive and sustainable over the long run.”

Conservation program

The CSP is an important farm bill conservation program that helps established conservation stewards with taking their level of natural resource management to the next level to improve both their agricultural production and provide valuable conservation benefits such as cleaner and more abundant water, as well as healthier soils and better wildlife habitat.

Weller said today’s announcement is another example of USDA’s comprehensive focus on promoting environmental conservation and strengthening the rural economy, and it is a reminder that a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill is pivotal to continue these efforts. CSP is now in its fifth year and so far, NRCS has partnered with producers to enroll more than 59 million acres across the nation.

Higher performance

The program emphasizes conservation performance — producers earn higher payments for higher performance. In CSP, producers install conservation enhancements to make positive changes in soil quality, soil erosion, water quality, water quantity, air quality, plant resources, animal resources and energy.

Some popular enhancements used by farmers and ranchers include:
• Using new nozzles that reduce the drift of pesticides, lowering input costs and making sure pesticides are used where they are most needed;
• Modifying water facilities to prevent bats and bird species from being trapped;
• Burning patches of land, mimicking prairie fires to enhance wildlife habitat; and
• Rotating feeding areas and monitoring key grazing areas to improve grazing management. Eligible landowners and operators in all states and territories can enroll in CSP through Jan. 17 to be eligible during the 2014 federal fiscal year.

Ranking periods

While local NRCS offices accept CSP applications year round, NRCS evaluates applications during announced ranking periods. To be eligible for this year’s enrollment, producers must have their applications submitted to NRCS by the closing date. A CSP self-screening checklist is available to help producers determine if the program is suitable for their operation. The checklist highlights basic information about CSP eligibility requirements, stewardship threshold requirements and payment types.

Learn more about CSP by visiting the NRCS website or a local NRCS field office.

A farm bill is still possible in 2013

December 6th, 2013 Kristy Foster Seachrist

COLUMBUS — A farm bill may still be possible before 2013 is over. At least that’s what U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown thinks.

Update

Brown spoke at the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation’s 95th annual meeting Dec. 5 and his top concern is getting a farm bill passed. Brown said he had just gotten off the phone with U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairman of the senate agriculture committee, and found out that the farm bill is closer to becoming a reality in 2013 than it was last week.

“I was concerned it wouldn’t pass a week ago,” said Brown.

Session opens up

Brown said he expects the farm bill to be discussed when the Senate goes back into session Dec. 9 and has confidence  it will be passed in 2013.

“We want to get it done in December,” said Brown. “We’re fairly close to an agreement.”

The Senate passed a version overwhelmingly bipartisan in 2012 and a version this fall. Brown said the question is whether or not House members will get on board. He said many farm groups support the Senate version.

Crop insurance

One issue in the farm bill will be crop insurance. Brown said he believes a safety net is needed for all commodities and shouldn’t be limited to corn and soybeans, and that will be addressed in the farm bill.
Brown said the Senate’s version will have to deal with the market rather than the farm program.

SNAP

Another area they will be looking at is the nutrition area (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), which is the bulk of the cost for the farm bill. He said the Senate version would handle nutrition in a way that deals with fraud issues, but provides for the disabled, elderly, low income, and those families making $9-10 an hour. Brown was unable to give a price tag for the food stamp portion of the bill.

He emphasized the Senate does not want to extend the current version of the farm bill especially for the dairy industry.

Brown said the farm bill, especially the Title I portion of the bill, has a lot of agreement on conservation enforcement, energy issues, general conservation and rural development.

He added he is confident if the farm bill gets to both floors, it will get passed.

Obama supportive

Brown said he talked with U.S. President Barack Obama and he wants the farm bill passed. He said the farm bill is good for economy and the prosperity of Ohio.

“He (Obama) looks at it as a jobs bill,” said Brown.

Brown reminded reporters that one in seven jobs in Ohio are tied to ag.

“Passing a good farm bill is good for the economy,” said Brown

He said Obama knows that when farmers do well, the whole economy is going to do well.

Farm bill by 2014? Maybe … maybe not

November 22nd, 2013 Chris Kick

SALEM, Ohio — Another year is about to end, and, like the past two years, the future of a new farm bill is unclear.

Congressional conferees were unable to reach an agreement before the start of their Thanksgiving recess, which began Nov. 21 for the House, and Nov. 22 in the Senate.

The conferees — 41 members — 29 House conferees and 12 from the Senate — first met to conference the House and Senate versions of the bill Oct. 30.

There was a sense of urgency throughout that meeting, in which several congressional leaders said their own credibility in Washington depends on getting a bill done.

When Congress returns in December, they’ll have less than two weeks to uphold their credibility, if they intend to get the bill passed into law by the end of the year. The House is scheduled to break Dec. 13.

The process

For the bill to move out of conference, a majority of the House and Senate conferees must agree on the provisions, before the bill can be introduced on the Senate or House floor.

Failure to pass a farm bill by the end of the year would mean more uncertainty for farmers and rural America, and for the nation’s 47 million who receive food stamps.

What’s at stake

In a report released Nov. 21, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and White House staff warned that food prices could also skyrocket as certain ag laws would revert back to 1940s policy, doubling the price of milk and affecting other foods.

In a separate report published Nov. 14, Ohio State University Farm Policy Expert Carl Zulauf and Jonathan Coppess, clinical assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, gave a detailed summary of what might happen.

Battle points

It appears the two biggest issues of controversy are cuts to food stamps, and farm safety nets — for crop and livestock farming. The House bill calls for about $39 billion in cuts to food stamps over 10 years, compared to just $4 billion by the Senate.

But both nutrition and farm safety nets are big issues.

“It is easy to point to nutrition programs as the likely reason that a new farm bill will not occur,” the authors wrote. “However, we think the farm safety net issues are just as, and maybe more divisive.”

Dairy programs

A big concern is what type of risk management to offer dairy farmers. Both the House and Senate bill’s replace current dairy programs with a risk management program based on the margin difference between the price of milk and feed.

The difference is, the Senate contains a provision to control milk supply by encouraging supply reductions when margins are especially low.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has openly criticized the Senate plan, known as the Dairy Security Act — as a form of supply management. The House amended its version of the farm bill to include provisions of the Dairy Freedom Act — which provides margin protection but does not include supply management.

According to the report filed by Zulauf and Coppess, the two bills also differ on the structure of the margin program subsidy by herd size, with the House bill being more favorable to small farms than the Senate bill. This difference is part of a larger issue concerning how much should government subsidize risk programs for large farms.

Read Zulauf’s full policy brief.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is a Democratic conferee from Ohio, said he supports the Senate version of dairy support. He said the dairy policy is one of the most controversial parts of the bill, and it may take a compromise in the end.

He spoke to reporters Nov. 20 during a press call with Jack Fisher, executive vice president of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, and Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, the executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.

Supporting food stamps

Their main topic was food stamps, which Brown said is an essential part of the farm bill.

“I won’t support a bill that goes after those in need and down on their luck,” he said.

Currently, one out of six Americans, or 47 million, receives food stamps.

“There is no debating that food stamp usage is at an all-time high,” said Hamler-Fugitt. “We are witnessing an unprecedented increase of hunger in Ohio.”

She said cuts to SNAP that went into effect Nov. 1 have already been deeply felt.

Fisher said the nation needs a safe, secure, adequate and abundant food supply. He also called for market-based programs.

“We want market based commodity programs,” he said. “We want to grow and plant food based on what consumers want, not what the government is going to pay.”

The options

In their report on the conference, Zulauf and Coppess outline three most likely paths the bill will take: First, the conference committee could reach an agreement and the bill is enacted into law. Secondly, the committee does not reach an agreement, and the expired 2008 farm bill is once again extended.

Third, the committee does not reach an agreement and farm commodity support programs come to an end. The farm safety net would become the insurance program, meaning multiple-year losses would not be covered by the farm safety net.

The authors say the first two options appear most likely. They say there is equal probability conferees will get a bill done, as there is that they will not, and an extension would then be made.

There will be a farm bill … eventually

November 7th, 2013 Normand St-Pierre

Fiscal cliff … government shutdown … farm bill. Ooops, sorry, the farm bill hasn’t happened yet. But it will … eventually!

You know, after everything that has happened in Washington lately, I’m not sure that we really want a farm bill. Be careful for what you wish!

Remember that most representatives and senators who will be voting on the final version of the bill are pretty much clueless about farming in general, and dairying in particular. I am worried that the inevitable compromise bill reached between the House and the Senate will look like a Frankenstein patchwork of semi-idiotic ideas.

Favorable markets

Meanwhile, the markets are currently moving favorably for dairymen. It is always difficult at best to forecast prices more than a couple of months ahead, but judging on current Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) cash and futures prices, dairymen should be enjoying a pleasant pre-Christmas season.

Currently, nonfat dry milk stands at a multi-year high on the CME, trading above $1.80/pound. After a relatively steady fall in price throughout late summer and early fall, butter closed above $1,50/pound last week, gaining more than 5 cents/pound.

Meanwhile, cheddar blocks closed above $1.90/pound for the first time in more than six months. Hopefully, this rise in price will last a bit longer than the one we experienced last May, which lasted only four days above $1.90/pound.

Meanwhile, dry whey prices have been holding steady around 56 cents/pond. These prices explain the encouraging $18.22/cwt. Class III price that was just announced for October.

Both the Class III and Class IV futures for the next few months are very good — much higher than what was anticipated just a few months ago.

Other side

Of course, milk prices don’t mean a thing unless one looks at what it costs to produce milk. Because feed costs represent the largest cash costs on a typical dairy, we now have a nearly fanatic trance in regards to feed costs.

Although the markets of byproduct feeds do not operate in perfect harmony with the corn and soybean markets, they nevertheless are heavily influenced by them.

Corn prices

Last July, in spite of a temporary rise in the December corn futures, I stuck my neck out and predicted corn prices at $4/bushel in December. I made this forecast because I just don’t have much faith in preliminary U.S. Department of Agriculture reports.

However, I have immense faith in the productivity of American farmers; and they’re about to prove me right again. Last week, December corn futures closed at $4.27/bushel, down 13 cents/bushel for the week.

When all is suddenly done, the national corn crop should be in the neighborhood of 14.2 billion bushels this year. That’s a lot of corn! This drop in corn price is coupled with soybean meal November futures now trading under $400/ton.

These prices are indicative of a substantial reduction in feed costs and, thus, a significant improvement in milk margins. I know that this will be a temporary relief on most Ohio dairy farms.

Enjoy the season

Soon, we will be celebrating Thanksgiving — my favorite American holiday. You see, I was raised in Canada where Thanksgiving occurs in October and has nothing to do with the Pilgrims celebrating a successful harvest.

In fact, it’s really not a big holiday up there. I have learned to enjoy very much the American spirit surrounding Thanksgiving. This year, as usual, I will be eating far more turkey, mash potatoes, sweet potatoes and stuffing than I should.

Surrounded by my family and close friends, we will make sure to take a long moment to thank the American farmers for the bountiful and wholesome food they provide us from their work.Make sure that you spend time with your family even when there are cows to be milked … like every day.

Sense of urgency as farm bill conference begins

November 1st, 2013 Chris Kick

SALEM, Ohio — More than a year after the 2008 farm bill expired, a group of bipartisan House and Senate members finally sat down at the same table Oct. 30, to begin the process of conferencing a new five-year farm bill.

Members spent most of the opening session introducing themselves and praising each other for the opportunity to work across party lines for the good of farmers and the American people. And that’s the challenge at hand, as farmers and consumers demand action.

“It took us years to get here, but we are here,” said Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., who is chairman of the conference. “We can do it, we have to do it,” he said, adding, “let’s not take years to get it done.”

The sense of urgency was conveyed by most of the conferees, with some going as far as to say their own credibility in Washington depends on getting the farm bill done by year’s end.

Farm and Dairy watched the conference live via C-SPAN. Watch the full video here.

“We’re hopefully at the beginning of the end of this process,” said Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn. “This has been going on too long.”

Many twists

The “process” has taken some confusing twists and turns, but basically, the 2008 farm bill was set to expire in October, 2012. The Senate passed a new farm bill in June, 2012 while the House failed to put their farm bill to a vote.

After the 2008 farm bill expired, and faced with price programs that could have reverted back to the 1940s, Congress approved a last-minute extension of the 2008 farm bill in the last days of 2012, to run through October of 2013.

The Senate passed its second full five-year farm bill in June of 2013, while the House farm bill failed later the same month. In July, the House took an unprecedented move and voted to split the farm bill from the nutrition title, ultimately approving farm and food bills in separate pieces.

And now, the conference committee is charged with one giant task: Bring it altogether.

Something that works

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said he’s looking for “tangible and workable solutions,” for farmers as well as the hungry.

Brown issued a joint statement with U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Lakeville, prior to the conference, in which the two shared bipartisan views on risk management and market fundamentals.

“We believe the farm bill conference must produce a bill that provides common sense, market-based resources that ensure economic stability for farmers and savings for taxpayers,” Gibbs and Brown both wrote.

Brown said he’s been across the state listening to farmers, and that he’s tried to make sure the farm bill reflects what they want.
For instance, many have told him they don’t want direct payments, and in the new bill, those are gone. The new bill also places more emphasis on farmers buying crop insurance and making it the primary crop protection program.

Hurdles to climb

But while there is much optimism on the committee, there are some tall hurdles. A big issue is how much to cut from food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The House legislation could cut as much as $40 billion, and Senate Democrats say that’s too much.

Brown said the House’s cuts to SNAP would harm everyone, including children, working parents, the disabled and veterans.

“Our farmers feed the world,” he said. “They are proud to do that, but the House is seeking to break a decades old bond between farmers and those Americans who are going hungry.

Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Cleveland, said she’s “very concerned” about the proposed cuts to SNAP.

“We do not turn our backs on farmers seeking help with crop insurance, and we certainly should
not turn our backs on hungry Americans,” she said.

Other issues include language related to the Dairy Security Act — which would create a margin protection program and market stabilization program designed to help reduce milk price volatility. Although voluntary, some say the program amounts to supply management and fear it would hinder growth.

Interstate commerce

Additional issues include eligibility requirements for crop insurance and disaster assistance, and the Protect Interstate Commerce Act, an amendment by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that would prevent states from enacting laws that limit what they sell, based on how those goods were raised or grown in other states.

The issue stems from new animal-rights laws enacted in California, that established a new standard of how egg-laying hens in that state must be raised.

King said the U.S. constitution prohibits “trade protectionism” between states, and he intends to defend that position.

“The bottom line of it is that no state should be allowed to regulate the production in other states,” he said. “Any state, including California, is free to regulate and even over-regulate their producers, but not to regulate the other 49 states.”

(Our coverage of the farm bill conference will continue, as the conference itself continues)

Farm bill conservation programs and the continuing resolution

October 31st, 2013 Other News

COLUMBUS — Expiration of the farm bill and the recently passed Continuing Resolution allows the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to offer some farm bill conservation programs, but not all, according to Dot Harris, Ohio’s Assistant State Conservationist for Programs.

In addition, the federal government shutdown suspended NRCS work on existing conservation program contracts, delaying certification of practices installed during that time frame. Conservation program contract holders that installed practices during the government shutdown should notify their local NRCS field office so NRCS can certify the practices as completed and process payments for those practices.

EQIP

The continuing resolution provides funding for the Environmental Incentives Program. In Ohio, NRCS will review and rank eligible EQIP applications submitted by Nov. 15 for funding. If additional EQIP funding is available, NRCS may offer additional application periods. Eligible agricultural producers can apply for EQIP anytime.

CSP

The continuing resolution provides funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program. Like EQIP, any eligible agricultural producer can apply for CSP anytime. In Ohio, NRCS has not yet announced an application selection date this year.

FRPP

The Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) The continuing resolution provides funding for the Farm and Ranch Lands

Protection Program

In Ohio, NRCS will announce the deadline for cooperating entities to submit applications this year.
Expired conservation programs. Several conservation program authorities lapsed when the farm bill expired. These include the Wetlands Reserve Program, Grasslands Reserve Program, Healthy Forest Reserve Program, and the Conservation Reserve Program. NRCS cannot accept new applications for these programs at this time. NRCS will continue to assist with agreements from prior years to complete easement closings and restoration activities and to ensure conservation practice implementation.

Farm bill conference committee to hold first public meeting

October 23rd, 2013 Other News

WASHINGTON — The first public meeting for the 2013 farm bill conference committee will be held Oct. 30 at 1 p.m. ET in Room 1100 of the Longworth House Office Building (the Ways and Means Committee Room).

The agenda for the meeting of conferees will include opening statements and discussion of H.R. 2642.

The Senate conferees include:

Democrats:

  • Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
  • Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA)
  • Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)
  • Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
  • Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO)

Republicans:

  • Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee
  • Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS)
  • Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
  • Sen. John Boozman (R-AR)
  • Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND)

The House conferees include:

Republicans:

House Committee on Agriculture conferees:

  • Rep. Frank D. Lucas (R-OK), Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee
  • Rep. Steve King (R-IA)
  • Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX)
  • Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL)
  • Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-TX)
  • Rep. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-PA)
  • Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA)
  • Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR)
  • Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL)
  • Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD)
  • Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA)
  • Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL)

Leadership conferee:

  • Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL)

House Foreign Affairs Committee conferees:

  • Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman
  • Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA)

House Ways & Means Committee conferees:

  • Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), Chairman
  • Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX)

Democrats:

House Committee on Agriculture conferees:

  • Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), Ranking Member of House Agriculture Committee
  • Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC)
  • Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA)
  • Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN)
  • Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR)
  • Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA)
  • Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA)
  • Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-CA)
  • Rep. Filemon Vela (D-TX)

Leadership conferee:

  • Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH)

House Foreign Affairs Committee conferee:

  • Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Ranking Member

House Ways & Means Committee conferee:

  • Rep. Sandy Levin (D-MI), Ranking Member

U.S. House appoints farm bill conferees

October 14th, 2013 Chris Kick

SALEM, Ohio — After months of delay, the U.S. House of Representatives has named its appointees to conference a new farm bill. The 2008 farm bill expired in September after a nine-month extension.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, announced the appointees Oct. 12, commending House members for working to cut spending and help strengthen the nation’s agriculture and food stamp programs.

“The Farm Bill extension measures passed by the House include much-needed reforms that cut spending and help strengthen our agriculture and food stamp programs,” he said in a released statement.

Related: Amid shutdown, what about the farm bill?

Some background

The House approved a separate farm-only bill July 11 and a nutrition-only bill Sept. 19, breaking the marriage between the two measures for the first time since they were combined.

The House nutrition bill seeks a $40 billion cut to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over five years, a contentious issue among Democrats and some Republicans, who said the cuts were too deep.

The Senate approved sending its version of the $500 billion comprehensive farm bill to conference July 19, and has been waiting for the House to name its conferees.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said he is “pleased to be at this point in the farm bill process” where negotiations with the Senate are about to occur.

“This has been a long and challenging process, but that does not discount the product we have achieved with billions of dollars in savings and reforms, and policy that works for all of agriculture all across the country,” he said in a released statement.

Moving ahead

Farm groups across the nation called the House appointment of conferees a sign of progress. But, at the same time, there’s a strong feeling that it’s overdue.

“Appointing conferees might be a sign that, after repeatedly delaying and undermining the agriculture committee’s work, Republican leaders are finally getting serious about the farm bill,” said Ranking House Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

He said he’s still hopeful Republicans and Democrats can get a new five-year farm bill finished by year’s end, but, he’s also concerned, because some of the House’s appointments as conferees are outside the agriculture committee.

“Conferees are committed to working together and getting a farm bill done but bringing divisive resolutions to a vote and appointing conferees outside the (House) Agriculture Committee has made our jobs a lot harder,” he said.

Who they are

The House’s Republican appointees are: Representatives Frank D. Lucas of Oklahoma, Steve King of Iowa, Randy Neugebauer of Texas, Mike Rogers of Alabama, Michael Conaway of Texas, Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson of Pennsylvania.; Austin Scott of Georgia, Rick Crawford of Arizona, Martha Roby of Alabama, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Jeff Denham of California, Rodney Davis of Illinois, Steve Southerland of Florida, Ed Royce of California, Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, Dave Camp of Michigan, and Sam Johnson of Texas.

House Democrat appointees are: Representatives Marcia Fudge of Ohio, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, Jim Costa of California, Tim Walz of Minnesota, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, Suzan DelBene of Washington, Gloria Negrete McLeod of California, Filemon Vela of Texas, Eliot Engel of New York, and Sandy Levin of Michigan.

Amid shutdown, what about the farm bill?

October 4th, 2013 Chris Kick

WOOSTER, Ohio — All the Washington talk lately has been on the shutdown, which began Oct. 1 after Congress failed to reach a budget to fund the federal government.

But buried within that battle is an issue with significant implications for rural America: the farm bill. The last bill, the 2008 farm bill, was extended to run through September, 2013.

Now that the extension has expired, uncertainty is the one thing farmers can be certain about.

As far as actions go, the Senate has appointed its conferees to conference the Senate version with members of the House. The Senate re-affirmed its appointees Oct. 1 and said it’s ready for a conference.

Uncertainty abounds

Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D- Mich., said the recent shutdown has created “a double whammy of uncertainty for the economy and for the 16 million Americans who work in this country because of agriculture.”

Stabenow said the Senate has twice passed a comprehensive, bipartisan farm bill that will create jobs, reform agriculture policy and reduce the deficit by tens of billions of dollars.

“It’s time to finally get this done,” she said.

The Senate conferees for the majority include: Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.; Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Max Baucus, D-Mont., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; and Michael Bennet, D-Colo.

It is unclear what the U.S. House of Representatives plans to do, or whether they plan to appoint conferees. House members passed separate pieces of the traditional farm bill, one to fund the farm titles (July 11), and a seperate bill to fund the nutrition programs (Sept. 19), while cutting food stamps by nearly $40 billion.

Tamara Hinton, communications director for the House Agriculture Committee, said the next step is for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to name his farm bill conferees.

She said she is “uncertain when that will take place, but it’s expected to be done in short order.”

Immediate action

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson, and other farm group leaders, say it needs done now.

In an Oct. 2 letter to Boehner, Johnson said it’s up to the speaker to name his appointees and get the bill conferenced.

“The fate of the farm bill is now in your hands,” Johnson wrote. “This is an opportunity for you and the House to demonstrate that Congress is still able to get things done.”

Johnson, like most other farm organizations, said the farm bill is an important issue for the nation’s farmers, ranchers, fishermen, consumers and hungry citizens.

 Dates that matter?

Although Sept. 30 was the official farm bill expiration date, the end of the year could be more important, when milk policies could potentially revert back to the 1940s-era, causing a major price spike.

As for crop farmers, their funding is on a crop-year basis, so the current year’s crop is covered by last year’s farm bill extension.

Carl Zulauf, an agricultural economics professor in Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, said we could see a bill that combines many different things.

“Based on what I am hearing and reading, it looks increasingly likely that we will see a bill that encompasses the spending resolutions for the 2014 (current) fiscal year and the debt ceiling increase,” he wrote in an email to Farm and Dairy. “It is therefore likely that we will see other items of legislation merged into this bill.  This farm bill could be one of those pieces of legislation.

“I think if this happens, the farm bill will likely be a one- or two-year extension (not a new farm bill) and I would expect some cut in the farm program spending baseline in order to help meet budget constraints, such as a reduction in direct payments. It would be hard, but not impossible, to write a new farm bill in this short of time, and given the other pressing aspects of such an encompassing legislation. If a farm bill extension is not included in the encompassing legislation, then I am not sure what to expect in regard to farm policy.”

Shutdown’s effect

Andrew Novakovich, agricultural economist and farm bill expert at Cornell University, said the shutdown itself does not affect passage of the next farm bill, but he said the shutdown does “add toxins to a political environment in which compromise feels almost impossible.”

There will, inevitably, be consequences from the shutdown.

“A large number of federal workers will get unpaid leave, visitors to D.C. and national parks will find doors barred shut, and all kinds of folks and businesses will find out how much we rely on a myriad of federal reports that are easy to take for granted,” he said.

“Retirement programs that calculate benefits based on changes to the Consumer Price Index won’t have a new estimate of changes to consumer prices. CME futures markets that cash settle against a federal estimated price won’t have a cash price announced. Farmers that had planned to finish that paperwork in their local FSA office will find the door locked.”

House passes nutrition-only bill, but clock’s still ticking on farm bill

September 24th, 2013 Other News

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives passed the nutrition portion of the former full farm bill, H.R. 3102, the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013, by a vote of 217-210 Sept. 19, setting the stage for lawmakers to finally move to a farm bill conference.

Farm bill programs are currently operating under a one-year extension of the 2008 farm bill that expires Sept. 30, reverting farm policy back to permanent law.

Cuts in SNAP

The legislation, championed by Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor, would cut $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the program formerly known as food stamps. The bill was strongly opposed by House Democrats and some Republicans who charged it would increase hunger by ending benefits for nearly 4 million people in 2014.

The measure also faces a veto threat from the White House. After the vote, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the bill “stands no chance of becoming law.”

Vilsack said the “vote was a highly partisan step that does nothing to promote a bipartisan, comprehensive farm bill.”

Still hopeful

House Ag Committee Chairman Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., remains hopeful we’ll see a farm bill this year.

“I remain committed to getting a five-year farm bill on the books this year,” he said in a prepared statement after the vote. “Today’s vote was another step toward that goal.”

But Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, decried the politics of the largely party-line vote.

“We have never before seen this kind of partisanship injected into a farm bill,” she said, calling the bill “a monumental waste of time.”

Sept. 30 deadline

Few people believe a bill will be passed before month’s end.

“It’s obvious that we will not have a new farm bill in place by the time the current one expires,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman in remarks presented Sept. 19 to the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City.

“The only extension Farm Bureau supports is a five-year extension that looks a lot like the new farm bill that is working its way through Congress,” he added.

It’s not clear that a conference committee would be able to look at both the farm-only and nutrition-only bills on the same table with the comprehensive Senate farm bill. According to D.C.-based farm journalist Jerry Hagstrom, the newly passed nutrition bill doesn’t contain a measure to merge that bill with the farm-only bill previously approved.

No conferees have been appointed as of presstime.

U.S. Senate ready to conference the farm bill

July 19th, 2013 Chris Kick

SALEM, Ohio — The Senate approved sending its version of the farm bill to conference with the U.S. House of Representatives, during Senate floor action July 19.

“We are, in fact, now officially sending back our Senate Bill to the House and requesting a conference on the farm bill,” said Sen. Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., during her floor speech.

“We have produced a product that is comprehensive, bipartisan, balanced, that addresses the agricultural needs and concerns of our country and of a five-year farm bill that addresses food security and conservation of our soil and land and water,” Stabenow said.

The full Senate approved its version of the $500 billion farm bill 66-27 June 10. The House failed its version of a similar, comprehensive farm bill June 20.

But July 11, the House broke with tradition and approved a farm-only farm bill by a 216-208 vote, with the intent of passing a nutrition-only bill at a later date.

Washington media report the nutrition-only bill is still being formed, and it is not clear when that bill might come to the House floor.

Farm and food

In a press call with reporters July 15, Stabenow said neither the Senate nor the president would consider a farm bill without food stamps being included.

“We could not pass that through the Senate, nor would the president of the United States sign that bill,” she said. “It would be a very short-term approach that would end the coalition between urban and rural communities.”

Stabenow said she is eager for the conference between the House and Senate to begin, so they can hopefully get a farm bill done while Congress is still in session, and before the 2008 Farm Bill extension expires, in October.

“There’s not a lot of time,” she said. “There’s enough time to do it but we have got to get started.”

She said the conference will be an important step in finishing the farm bill, and that she’s confident the House and Senate will get the farm bill done.

House splits nutrition title out of farm bill; farm-only bill passes 216-208

July 12th, 2013 Susan Crowell

WASHINGTON — After suffering a rather stinging defeat the first time the farm bill came to the House floor for a vote, House Republicans regrouped and bowed to pressure to ungroup the federal food and nutrition programs from the farm legislation.

The result was passage of the revamped H.R. 2642, another five-year farm bill that did not include the nutrition title. While the farm bill was on the floor, it was debated under a closed rule, which means no amendments were considered.

The bill passed July 11, by a 216-208 vote.

Voting for the farm-only farm bill were 216 Republicans and 0 Democrats; Voting against the bill were 12 Republicans and 194 Democrats. Eleven members did not vote.

The Ohio and Pennsylvania delegation members all voted along party lines.

When approved by the conference committee and voted on once again by both the House and the Senate, the legislation will repeal and replace the permanent law for commodities that dates to 1938 and 1949.

The vote breakdown is here: http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2013/roll353.xml

“Our farm and food stamp programs need reform,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in a statement after the vote. “The status quo is unacceptable, which is why I voted against most of the farm bills of the past two decades, and supported this one.”

What about food stamps?

Rep. Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said the nutrition title, Title IV, that was removed from the bill that passed, will go back to the ag committee for round two.

The goal, he said during a speech on the floor prior to the vote, is to craft a bill that can be passed on the House floor, and then both the farm bill and the nutrition bill will go to the conference committee to reconcile with the Senate’s farm bill, which is a single piece of legislation that passed easily with a vote of 66 to 27.

He also warned, however, that if a nutrition title is not finalized, the program’s reform could also be taken up in the appropriations process, specifically by the ag appropriations subcommittee chaired by Robert Aderholt, R-Ala.

‘Laughable.’

Rep. Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn., the minority leader on the House ag committee, said splitting the farm bill sets the stage for “draconian cuts to nutrition programs and eliminating future farm bills altogether.”

The House Majority’s decision “would be laughable if it weren’t true,” Peterson said in a statement after the vote.

“I firmly believed that if we could find a way to remove the partisan amendments adopted during the House farm bill debate, we would be able to advance a bipartisan bill, conference with the Senate and see it signed into law this year. Now all that is in question.”

On the same days as the vote, a group of 17 Senators, including Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Pa., sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., urging him to oppose any split in the legislation during conferencing.

The Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013.

Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scoring of the bill.

Commentary by Susan Crowell: What farm bill history do we want to repeat?

July 11th, 2013 Susan Crowell

Don’t ask me why, but this afternoon I reached into my file cabinet and pulled out a thick folder labeled “2002 Farm Bill.”

And — surprise, surprise! — the House and Senate leaders were trading barbs and pointing fingers at the tail end of 2001 as to why Congress couldn’t get a farm bill finalized.

“For the Senate to delay passage of the farm bill and then not complete their job is like shining up the tractor, driving up to the edge of the field and stalling the engine,” declared then-House Agriculture Chairman Larry Combest, R-Texas.

To which Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., responded, “Republicans continue to employ procedural roadblocks to slow consideration and completion of the farm bill on the Senate floor.”

Delays in farm bill development aren’t new. The 1995 farm bill became the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act, and the 2007 farm bill didn’t get finalized until May 2008. We shouldn’t expect anything different from a Congress that can’t get budget bills approved until mid-point in that unfinished budget’s fiscal year.

Crafting a farm bill is complicated stuff. Throw politics into the mix and you get gridlock.

As evidenced from the current calls to split the food assistance programs from the farm programs, proponents and opponents for the legislation come from different camps: food policy, farm policy, energy policy, natural resources/conservation/environment, rural development, and Tea Partiers and fiscal hawks who want to control government spending, just to name a few.

None of the camps has enough clout to pass a farm bill without linking arms with another camp. We still need a broad coalition to pass legislation that includes conservation, farm and food programs.

Lost in all the rhetoric are some important details:

Reality check: Commodity programs declined from a high of $24.4 billion in 2005 to less than $10 billion per year in 2010.

Want farmers to get more bang for those bucks? Channel more federal money into agricultural research.

Ag economist J.M. Alston (2009) estimates that every dollar spent on ag research and development would generate a $10 benefit to farmers. Compare that to Alston’s estimate (again, from 2009) that farmers receive only about 50 cents of every farm subsidy dollar.

Reality check: Funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, rose from $12.2 billion in 1985 to $68.3 billion in 2010. One in eight Americans, or 44 million people, received food assistance in 2010. And U.S. food assistance programs represent the largest portion — around 75% (although you’ll see other numbers) — of farm bill spending.

Is the system needed? Yes. Do we need to reform this system? Yes. For one, shove some of those dollars into SNAP-ED, the nutrition education component. That way, perhaps more recipients will buy peas instead of PopTarts.

Reality check: While, yes, current farm revenues are high, farm input costs rose by 55 percent over the last six years, far higher than overall inflation.

Farmers assume more risk than the average small business. Give them the tools to hedge that risk.

Reality check: Even though many farms are large, and many families form a family partnership or family corporation, the bulk today’s farms can still be considered a family farm.

People want to support farmers; they just don’t want to support the Ted Turners of the world. We need a means test to target that support.

Reality check: The recent failed House floor farm bill vote was the first time Speaker Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, ever voted in favor of a farm bill.

And that just means facts can be stranger than fiction.

* * *

By Susan Crowell

A farm bill without food stamps?

July 10th, 2013 Chris Kick

(Breaking story. Updates being made. House passes farm-only farm bill. July 11, 2013.)

SALEM, Ohio — Reports that the U.S. House of Representatives may consider a farm bill minus the food stamp provision has stirred a wide range of reaction.

Washington media are reporting the bill would include only the farm provisions, and that the House would later vote on a separate bill to fund food stamps.

When combined, food stamps, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, make up more than three-fourths of the $500 billion farm bill and were a major issue of contention among House members who failed the combined bill June 20, by a vote of 195-234.

Some farmers have also voiced support for splitting the two programs, but most farm organizations are speaking out against the split, warning that it could leave the agriculture program at risk of not passing, over fear that an urban-dominated House might not provide enough votes.

Enough support?

In a July 2 letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, more than 500 farm organizations called for a comprehensive farm bill and cautioned against the split.

“Farm bills represent a delicate balance between America’s farm, nutrition, conservation, and other priorities, and accordingly require strong bipartisan support,” the authors wrote. “… We believe that splitting the nutrition title from the rest of the bill could result in neither farm nor nutrition programs passing, and urge you to move a unified farm bill forward.”

American Farm Bureau Farm Policy Specialist Mary Kay Thatcher, in a recent interview on Newsline, said the House would likely not have enough rural support.

“You’re looking at 435 members in the House, 25 percent of whom have zero farmers in their district,” she said. “How does one go to the Hill and convince one of those members of Congress to support spending money for agriculture?”

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said “splitting farm programs and nutrition assistance into two separate bills is a disservice to farmers, ranchers, rural residents and consumers.

“The bill needs to remain intact, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s efforts to provide safety net programs for both farmers and consumers facing hard times should not be pulled in opposite directions. Farmers produce the food upon which consumers across the country, including those in need of some assistance, rely.”

What they’re saying

Some senators expressed their view on the split over Twitter, and more statements are forthcoming.

U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Cleveland, and a House Agriculture Committee member, tweeted “taking SNAP, other nutrition programs out of the farm bill is not the way to go. Growing and feeding go hand in hand.”

The Senate approved its version of the farm bill June 10, by a vote of 66-27.

Farm bill: Now what?

June 25th, 2013 Chris Kick

WOOSTER, Ohio — The House’s June 20 defeat of the farm bill raises some interesting questions about where the bill goes next.

The 195-234 vote against the bill puts a damper on what most farm organizations were hoping would be a milestone toward a new five-year bill.

The House Agriculture Committee could write a new bill for the House to vote on, the House could take up the farm bill the Senate passed June 10, or it could try to extend the 2008 farm bill again, following a nine-month extension that began in January.

Majority needed

A new farm bill likely won’t pass until legislators are able to cobble together a majority coalition in a politically divided Congress, which in turn reflects a divided country and a divided farm bill constituency, said Carl Zulauf, an agricultural economics professor in Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Many Democrats who voted against the bill were concerned about the $20.5 billion in cuts to SNAP and other food nutrition programs, which is about five times as much of a cut to SNAP than the Senate bill. Republicans voted no because of concerns about the cost of the bill, which will cost about $500 billion.

“It’s not clear why individual members voted against this bill — the SNAP program was an issue, as was cost,” Zulauf said. “But in my experience, few legislators vote against a bill for a single reason.”

Chris Galen, spokesperson for National Milk Producers Federation, said there’s a lot of uncertainty at this point, but noted the same observations as Zulauf. A big concern for NMPF is that the House approved an amendment to essentially strip the Dairy Security Act language, which would have given dairy farmers margin protection and some price stabilization options.

Prior to the vote, House Speaker John Boehner sent a pointed letter to lawmakers urging them to support the amendment, sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. and Rep. David Scott, D-Ga. Boehner said the nation’s current dairy programs are “Soviet-style” and “in dire need of reform.”

He wrote, “Today, the government runs a complex and costly maze of dairy programs designed to keep prices high. Minimum prices for milk are set by Washington, not the market, and in many districts are still based on how far one is from Eau Claire, Wisconsin — an absurd holdover from the Great Depression.

“None of this bureaucracy comes cheap. Taxpayers have shelled out $5.44 billion for dairy programs since the 2002 Farm Bill (which I voted against). And staples like milk, butter, yogurt, and cheese all cost families and small businesses more than they should.”

Galen said NMPF was disappointed in the amendment, but said he was not surprised by the House speaker’s stance, which has usually been to protect dairy processors, who benefit by purchasing low-priced milk.

“He’s (Boehner) never really sided with dairy farmers when it comes to choosing between processor and farmer groups,” Galen said.

Toward the end of his letter, Boehner states “The bottom line is this: The federal government doesn’t control the supply or price of bread, clothes, or cell phones — it shouldn’t be doing so for milk.”

But dairy farmers have often challenged that logic, saying their industry is more vulnerable to market changes because it takes years to adjust. For instance, they cannot stop milking their cows when the market is low, or expand their operation overnight when prices are favorable.

Rural and urban

As always, the farm bill have to become something that serves both rural and urban interests. Some policymakers have argued the food stamp and nutrition program should be separate from the farm programs.

But, as Zulauf points out, that could put the farm programs at risk of not passing.

“I raise caution against separating the bill because as it stands, it makes the connection between farming and the consumption of food,” Zulauf said. “Also, if you remove nutrition programs from the farm bill, will there be enough interest from legislators who don’t have farming interests in their communities to get a farm bill passed?”

A House divided: Farm bill is fall guy

June 25th, 2013 Susan Crowell

Political or dysfunctional. Take your pick for describing the U.S. House of Representatives’ actions when the farm bill came up for a vote on the floor.

Like the attorney who never asks a question without knowing the answer, legislators rarely let a bill come to a floor vote without knowing how the vote will turn out, or close to it.

The farm bill wasn’t even close. It failed 195-234.

Shortly after the bill went down, Rep. Collin Peterson, of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the ag committee, was asked by reporters on the Hill what people should read from this defeat.

“That we can’t get our act together — the House of Representatives.”

And U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Chris Clayton, DTN ag policy editor, “It’s incredible.”

“There has never been a problem — a Democrat-Republican issue on the farm bill. It’s always been regional and commodity differences, but eventually people found consensus. So this is a historic failure. There’s just no other way to describe it.”

Ohio’s yes votes came from Republicans Boehner, Gibbs, Johnson, Joyce, Latta, Renacci, Stivers, Tiberi and Turner. In the “no” column, Republicans Chabot, Jordan and Wenstrup joined Democrats Beatty, Fudge, Kaptur and Ryan.

Pa. Republicans voting for the farm bill included Barletta, Dent, Fitzpatrick, Gerlach, Kelly, Marino, Murphy and Thompson.

The state’s Democrats — Brady, Cartwright, Doyle, Fattah and Schwartz — all voted no, joined by Republicans Meehan, Perry, Pitts, Rothfus and Shuster.

In all, the “nay” vote drew 62 Republicans and 172 Democrats, while the “yes” column ended with 171 Republicans and 24 Democrats. (See how the votes break down.)

The House is 0 for 2 in its attempts at writing a farm bill. It couldn’t get it done last summer either, which triggered the current nine-month extension of the 2008 farm bill.

This farm bill vote is bigger than the farm bill. It illustrates just how fractured the House is as a whole in its ability to get the job — any job — done.

The House version fell apart with the addition of the dairy amendment (the Goodlatte-Scott amendment would’ve stripped the margin insurance and market stabilization of the Dairy Security Act from the farm bill) and the adoption of Rep. Steve Southerland’s amendment to institute work requirements for those who receive food stamps.

D.C. media reported Peterson told House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., not to accept the Southerland amendment, that it would cost votes. But when heavyweights like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., added a statement in support of the Southerland amendment, Lucas left it in. And the votes ran away.

The bill was already under fire for massive cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the food stamp program. And those cuts prompted the President’s senior advisors to recommend President Barack Obama veto the House version of the bill, if those cuts stayed in the final bill.

More than 80 percent of the dollars in the farm bill go toward food and nutrition programs like SNAP. Historically, the ag coalition has said it needs those dollars — those urban legislators — to get any farm legislation passed at all. Now, calls to separate the two issues are getting louder, including the voice of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., one-time presidential hopeful.

In February, I was in a room with a bunch of ag folks listening to longtime journalist Jerry Hagstrom, who has covered agriculture in D.C. for decades.

“Food and agriculture are hot topics,” he said, but added bluntly, “Agriculture has been doing so well that nobody is worried about it.”

Except for the ones who plow and plant and harvest. And those who feed, and milk and assume all the risk. But no one asked them, did they?

“I have a hard time seeing where we go from here,” said Rep. Collin Peterson in a prepared statement.

So do we.

Let’s make that political AND dysfunctional.