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.

U.S. House votes down 2013 Farm Bill

June 20th, 2013 Chris Kick

SALEM, Ohio — The U.S. House put the 2013 Farm Bill to vote June 20, failing the measure by a vote of 195-234.

Farm organizations had pressured the House to vote on the bill after failing to consider the 2012 Senate-approved Farm Bill, and instead settling on a nine-month extension of the 2008 Farm Bill.

The Senate approved its version of the 2013 Farm Bill 66-27 June 10. The bills were similar, except the House Bill called for about $20 billion in additional cuts to the Food Stamp program, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

“On this day, on this vote, the House worked its will,” said House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., in a statement following the vote.

“I’m obviously disappointed,” Lucas continued, “but the reforms in H.R. 1947 — $40 billion in deficit reduction, elimination of direct payments and the first reforms to SNAP since 1996 — are so important that we must continue to pursue them.  We are assessing all of our options, but I have no doubt that we will finish our work in the near future and provide the certainty that our farmers, ranchers, and rural constituents need.”

National Milk’s response

Most farm organizations issued statements of disappointment following the vote. National Milk Producers Federation said it was disappointed in the outcome, because it leaves the farm bill “in limbo.” But had the bill passed, as amended, it would have stripped the Dairy Security Act and margin protection programs.

The amendment, by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., would have removed those safety-net provisions and created a way to provide dairy producers with the option to annually enroll in a new margin insurance program at levels of $4 and up to $8 in increments of fifty cents.

Based on the highest annual of three previous calendar years of their milk marketings, dairy producers are allowed to elect their coverage level and the percentage of coverage up to 80 percent, at the start of the program and annually thereafter. Dairy producers would have been allowed to update their production history annually.

The amendment was approved by a vote of 291-135, creating one of the biggest differences between the House and Senate versions of the farm bill.

Jerry Kozak, president and CEO of NMPF, called the amendment “a disappointment to America’s dairy farmers who recognize this amendment for what it is: An effort to ensure that dairy processors get a government-insured supply of cheap milk.”

Since the farm bill ultimately failed, though, Kozak said the amendment was “a hollow victory for its proponents.”

Supply management

Kozak criticized House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who has consistently stood against the concept of supply management.

“We always knew we faced a difficult challenge in the more urban and suburban-oriented House, especially with House Speaker John Boehner personally committed to defeating the Dairy Security Act,” Kozak said. “But we’re hopeful that the House and Senate will eventually find a way to write a compromise farm bill. When they do, we believe the agriculture conferees who develop that final bill will understand the importance of the more balanced approach to dairy policy contained in the Senate-passed farm bill.”

The Speaker had pledged to support the farm bill and cast a yes vote June 12, while admitting there were provisions in which he disagreed

“I am going to vote for the farm bill to make sure the good work of the Agriculture Committee, and whatever the floor might do to improve this bill, gets to a conference so that we can get the kind of changes that people want in our nutrition programs and our farm programs,” he said.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said had that bill passed, it would have “unfairly denied food assistance for millions of struggling families and their children, while failing to achieve needed reforms or critical investments to continue economic growth in rural America.”

Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said a five-year bill is needed, and the House needs to design a bill that both parties will support.

“The House needs to find a way to get a five-year Farm Bill done,” she said in a released statement. “The Speaker needs to work in a bipartisan way and present a bill that Democrats and Republicans can support. He could start by bringing the Senate bill to the floor for a vote.”

June, farm bill could be another mess

June 20th, 2013 Alan Guebert

June meant the end of school, the beginning of summer and the arrival of dairy month.Now, somehow, June has become the Golf Channel’s official Pace of Play Month, LGBT Pride Month (you can look that up) and Farm Bill Month.

Little wonder rural folks are cranky; enjoying frosty bowls of vanilla ice cream on the back porch has been replaced by angry brawls over ag spending in the halls of Congress.

This June’s farm bill, like last June’s farm bill and the still-in-effect June 2008 Farm Bill, clouds clarity and spotlights hypocrisy.For example, the 2013 Senate version, which  passed 66 to 27 June 10, is portrayed by politicians and farm groups alike as a budget-slashing, farm program-reforming effort.

Still costly

It’s estimated,10-year cost, however, according the Congressional Budget Office, is $955 billion, or twice the estimated cost ($284 billion over five years: of the 2008 law.

Additionally, a key “reform” section of the bill retains an “outdated counter-cyclical program with even higher fixed targets prices,” for peanuts and rice, says Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.

His colleague, Pat Roberts of Kansas, calls the throwback a “look in the rearview mirror.”

The scheme was added to garner — buy — farm bill support of Southern senators who wax poetic on the virtues of budgetary tea but never actually drink the stuff unless it’s “sweet tea,” a regional concoction loaded with taxpayer-funded giveaways.

In truth, the Senate bill holds enough clunkers to attract 25 (of the 27 total) “nays” from ag’s usually supportive, GOP corner.

Several came from key farm and ranch states: Two from Texas; one each from Illinois, Ohio and Wyoming and the aforementioned South Dakota and Kansas.Most didn’t vote against expanding crop insurance or costly counter-cyclical policies. They said no because Senate cuts in food assistance programs, $4.5 billion over 10 years, weren’t enough.

“Not enough” is the unofficial motto the House of Representatives, the graveyard of the Senate’s 2012 Farm Bill. After receiving it last June, House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor buried it by burying the House’s 2012 Farm Bill.

This year, though, each promises a floor vote on the House’s less-costly bill by the end of June. The leaders’ promises are probably good but recent reports from the Hill suggest their collective enthusiasm is not.

For example, on June 10, Politico held up the speaker’s well-known contempt for both the Senate and House bills’ dairy policy changes as symptomatic of how “Republicans are genuinely divided over the role of government in farm policy.”

Boehner will vote

In a June 12 interview with Politico, however, Boehner tamped down ideas that he could not bring home the bacon.

“I’m going to vote for the Farm Bill to make sure that the good work of the Agriculture Committee… gets to a conference” with the Senate, he offered.

OK, but steering any legislation — let alone a well-larded, $1 trillion farm law — through the GOP-dominated House will be a politically perilous journey for him. First, about 45 percent of the House’s 435 members have served less than three years and, as such, these 200 or so members have never voted on a farm bill.

Second, unofficial vote counts show about 80 of Boehner’s 234-member GOP caucus moving against him and the farm bill. Like the Senate Republican naysayers, they want deeper cuts to food assistance.

How much more?

On June 4, former House Ag Chairman and now Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., told a farm crowd that proposed House cuts to nutrition programs, about $2 billion per year for the life of the bill, would get — maybe — 150 Republican votes.

For the other 80 or so, he offered, “$100 billion [in cuts] wouldn’t be enough.”

If Peterson is even close to right, then the speaker’s pace of play on the golf course and in the House may be as long gone as those sweet Junes a generation ago.(

Farm bill still brewing in the House

June 18th, 2013 Chris Kick

SALEM, Ohio — U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he plans to vote for the 2013 farm bill, which is expected to be introduced to the full House later this month.

In a June 10 statement to media, he encouraged a “vigorous and open debate” and commended House Ag Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., for “including a number of positive reforms in this bill,” like the ending of direct payments to farmers and food stamp reform.

But Boehner doesn’t agree with all parts of the bill, especially the part that includes a new dairy safety net (Dairy Security Act), which includes a form of supply management and margin protection for dairy farmers.

“I had concerns about some of the dairy provisions of the farm bill last year, and those concerns remain this year,” he said. “I oppose those provisions and will support efforts on the House floor to change them appropriately.”

In support

In a statement June 12, the speaker confirmed he would vote in favor of the bill.

“I am going to vote for the farm bill to make sure the good work of the (House) Agriculture Committee, and whatever the floor might do to improve this bill, gets to a conference so that we can get the kind of changes that people want in our nutrition programs and our farm programs,” he said.

The Senate approved its version of the bill by a vote of 66-27, the evening of June 10. The bills are very similar, except the House bill calls for about $20 billion in additional cuts to the food stamp program.

Both bills include the Dairy Security Act, something the National Milk Producers Federation said is an important protection for dairy farmers.

“We encourage the House of Representatives to also support its Agriculture Committee-passed bill, and reject any dairy processor-backed amendment to undermine the bill’s effectiveness by removing the market stabilization program,” NMPF CEO Jerry Kozak said in a released statement.

Senate action

For the Senate, it’s the second time in a year senators have approved a farm bill. Last year’s House ag committee approved its version of the bill in July, but it was never considered by the full House, partly over concerns with the Dairy Security Act.

Most of the nation’s major farm organizations support the farm bill passed by the Senate, and are calling for swift action in the House, as well.

Very similar

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, outlined some of the major similarities between the bills:

• Both work to protect crop insurance and offer enhancements through new provisions such as the Supplemental Coverage Option, a program that allows farmers to purchase an area-triggered revenue or yield insurance product to cover the deductible associated with the underlying individual or area insurance policy. The SCO would be available for all programs except for cotton.

• Each bill offers a safety net with options for producers, specifically price-based provisions of particular interest to rice and peanut farmers and revenue-based provisions supported by corn and soybean farmers.

• Both bills maintain the marketing loan program while eliminating direct payments and other Title I farm programs. The savings from the elimination of the direct payments and other programs are used in each bill to fund new farm programs and to provide budget savings to go toward deficit reduction targets.• Both have nearly the same gross margin insurance program for dairy producers.

NFU weighs in

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said “it is promising to hear that House leadership is embracing the 2013 farm bill.”

He said the bill makes “significant, much-needed reforms to agriculture programs, including significant deficit reduction. The farm bill also prevents the necessity for emergency ad hoc disaster programs, which almost always represents deficit spending.”

NFU also supports the bill’s elimination of direct payments, saying “American farmers need a safety net in times of natural disaster and long-term price collapse, not when conditions are more favorable.”

U.S. Senate approves farm bill

June 11th, 2013 Chris Kick

SALEM, Ohio — The U.S. Senate passed the 2013 Farm Bill 66-27 during an evening vote June 10. It cuts $24 billion in spending and is the second time the Senate has approved a five-year farm bill in a year.

The Senate last approved a farm bill in June of 2012, which died after a lack of action in the House.

The bill seeks to eliminate unnecessary direct payment subsidies to farmers, consolidates programs to end duplication and cracks down on food assistance abuse. It appears to be backed by most of the nation’s largest farm organizations, which gave statements Monday evening to media.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. said the bill is a bipartisan victory.

“Because we worked across party lines to streamline programs, we were able to save tax dollars while investing in initiatives that help boost exports, help family farmers sell locally and spur innovations in new bio-manufacturing and bio-energy industries,” she said in a statement to media.

What’s included

Instead of subsidies that pay out every year, even in good times, the bill creates risk management tools that support farmers when they are “negatively impacted by weather disaster or market events beyond their control.”

It also eliminates more than 100 programs and cracks down on abuse.

House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said he was pleased with the decision and expects the House will consider the bill the week of June 17.

“It’s going to be difficult, but if everything stays on track, I believe it’s possible to get a bill to the president before the August recess, finally providing some certainty for our farmers, ranchers and consumers,” he said in a statement to media.

Food stamp issue

The House and Senate versions of the bill are similar in many areas, but the House version calls for about $20 billion in cuts to food stamps (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), while the Senate cuts just $4 billion.

There also is some speculation that the House and Senate will disagree over previsions related to the Dairy Security Act, which provides a new safety net for dairy farmers.

But for now, the Senate and House bills include the act, and have received praise from the nation’s largest dairy cooperative — National Milk Producers Federation.

“On this strong bipartisan vote, the Senate has again shown its determination to put politics aside and work to implement new and better policies for America, including the country’s dairy farmers,” said NMPF President Jerry Kozak.

The Dairy Security Act establishes a voluntary margin insurance program allowing farmers to better manage the risks of milk price and feed cost volatility. The measure also includes a market stabilization program to improve the cost-effectiveness of the program, helping farmers and tax payers.

Both the Ohio Soybean Association and Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association had good things to say about the bill.

“After facing one of the most difficult seasons in decades with the drought of 2012, we are pleased to see the Senate recognized the need and importance of a safety-net for Ohio’s farmers,” said Tadd Nicholson, OCWGA executive director.

“The crop insurance program remains one of the most important tools available to Ohio farmers when they face circumstances beyond their control and we are grateful the committee chose to support the program.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the bill includes provisions that he helped author, especially for local foods programs as well as production agriculture.

Provisions from Brown’s Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act are expected to help Ohio farmers and ranchers sell directly to consumers.

The farm bill also builds on the “Grow it here, Make it here” initiative, which would boost the manufacturing of bio-based products made with agricultural materials. Ohio has about 130 companies that currently make bio-based products, including from waste streams, renewable plant, animal, marine and forestry materials.

Want action

The House Agriculture Committee approved its own farm bill 36-10 in May. Farm organizations say they hope the progress in the House continues.

“We encourage the House of Representatives to also support its agriculture committee-passed bill, and reject any dairy processor-backed amendment to undermine the bill’s effectiveness by removing the market stabilization program,” Kozak said.

He added, “Prompt action in the House is necessary so that farmers won’t spend the last half of this year like they spent 2012: Expecting a harvest that never materializes.”

House and Senate ag committees approve 2013 farm bill

May 17th, 2013 Chris Kick

WASHINGTON — The House and Senate ag committees both approved their respective versions of the farm bill this week, the House by a vote of 36 to 10, and the Senate approval was 15-5.

Senate Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, in teleconference May 16 with reporters, said the bill supports 16 million jobs that are directly connected to agriculture.

“There is not a bigger jobs bill that will come before the Congress than what we call the farm bill,” she said.

But the majority of the bill traditionally goes toward food stamps and nutrition assistance programming — a major point of difference between the House version.

The Senate bill would cut about $4 billion over five years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, while the House seeks to cut more than $20 billion.

“I absolutely reject the level of cuts and the way this is done in the House,” she said.

Stabenow said 47.5 million Americans get federal food assistance, which she mostly blamed on a weak economy.

“This is about providing help when it’s needed,” she said. “As the economy fell apart a number of years ago, many families who have paid taxes and worked hard all their life, have found themselves in a situation where they had to …. ask for help.”

Savings and reforms

House Ag Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said the bill his committee approved included “significant savings and reforms.”

In a released statement, he said “no other committee in Congress is voluntarily cutting money, in a bipartisan way, from its jurisdiction to reduce the size and scope of the federal government. I appreciate the efforts of my colleagues and the bipartisan nature in which this legislation was written and approved. I look forward to debating the bill on the House floor this summer.”

Lucas estimates the House bill saves nearly $40 billion by eliminating outdated government programs and reforming others.

Both versions of the bill go a long way in reducing and combining programs, especially for conservation.

The House version repeals or consolidates more than 100 programs, and consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13 — about the same as the Senate bill.

Both parties predict a lot of progress this summer, and a strong possibility for a new five-year bill before fall.

“Needless to say this process has gone on far too long and it is past time to get this bill done,” said Collin Peterson, D-Minn., ranking member of the House Ag Committee.

“With today’s (May 15) action, I’m optimistic the farm bill will continue through regular order and be brought to the House floor in June. If we can stay on track, I think we should be able to conference with the Senate in July and have a new five-year farm bill in place before the August recess.”

Farm Bureau is optimistic

American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman said he is optimistic about the progress.

“This provides a great reason for optimism we will have a new long-term farm bill this year,” he said in a released statement. “That belief is further supported by the fact that the bills are more striking in their similarities than in their differences. Both bills provide a solid start for a farm bill that serves America’s farm and ranch families.”

Both bills include a strong shift in risk management, away from government funding and into more crop insurance.

“The emphasis on crop insurance as a risk management tool, combined with flexibility that the measures offer through other safety net choices, will go a long way in ensuring a stable agricultural economy over the next few years,” Stallman said.

House bill highlights:

• Saves nearly $40 billion in mandatory funds, including the immediate sequestration of $6 billion.

• Repeals or consolidates more than 100 programs.

• Eliminates direct payments, which farmers received regardless of market conditions.

• Streamlines and reforms commodity policy while also giving producers a choice in how best to manage risk.

• Includes the first reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) since the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, saving more than $20 billion.

• Consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13, improving program delivery to producers and saving more than $6 billion.

• Builds on previous investments to fruit and vegetable production, farmers markets, and local food systems.

• Includes several regulatory relief measures to help mitigate burdens farmers, ranchers, and rural communities face.

Senate bill highlights:

Eliminates direct payments. Farmers will no longer receive payments when prices are rising and support is not needed. Ending these subsidies and creating responsible risk management is a major shift in American farm policy. Caps remaining risk management support at $50,000 per person.

Ends Farm Payments to Non-Farmers. This bill closes the “management loophole,” through which people who were not actually farming—in many cases not even setting foot on the farm—were designated as farm “managers” so they could receive farm payments

Requires conservation compliance for crop insurance, which will protect both the farm safety net and the natural resources that our nation’s farmers and ranchers will need for generations to come

Strengthens crop insurance and expands access so farmers are not wiped out by bad weather; includes disaster relief for producers hurt by drought, spring freeze, and other weather disasters; reforms farm programs, ending direct payments and implementing market-oriented programs to help farmers manage risk saves $16 billion dollars ($12 billion in the bill, $4 billion through sequestration).

Consolidates and Streamlies Programs. By eliminating duplicative programs, funds are concentrated in the areas in which they will have the greatest impact, reducing the deficit while strengthening top priorities.  The Senate Farm Bill eliminates over 100 programs and authorizations under the Agriculture Committee’s jurisdiction.

For example: The bill consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13 programs—while maintaining existing tools to protect and conserve land, water and wildlife.

Streamlining programs provides added flexibility and focuses conservation around four primary functions: working lands conservation, the Conservation Reserve Program, regional partnerships, and easements to help prevent sprawl and protect wetlands

Improves program accountability. At a time when many out-of-work Americans are in need of food assistance for the first time in their lives, it is more critical than ever that every dollar go to families in need. By closing loopholes, cracking down on abuse and improving program integrity, the Farm Bill reduces the deficit without cutting standard benefits or removing any needy family from the program.

• Increases accountability in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by stopping lottery winners from continuing to receive assistance, preventing states from providing $1 per year in home heating assistance to individuals who do not have a heating bill for the sole purpose of providing extra benefits above what they would normally receive; ending misuse by college students whose families are not truly low-income; cracking down on retailers and recipients engaged in benefit trafficking; increasing requirements to prevent liquor and tobacco stores from accepting food assistance benefits.

• Continuing growth in America’s diverse agricultural economy. The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act increases efficiency and accountability, saving tens of billions of dollars overall, while still strengthening agricultural jobs initiatives through:

• Export opportunities to help farmers find new global markets for their goods.

• Help for family farmers to sell locally, increasing support for farmers’ markets and spurring the creation of food hubs to connect farmers to schools and other community-based organizations.

• Training and access to capital to make it easier for beginning farmers to get off the ground.

• Initiatives to help American veterans start agriculture businesses.

• Growth in bio-based manufacturing (businesses producing goods in America from raw agricultural products grown in America) to create rural agriculture and urban manufacturing jobs.

• Innovation in bio-energy production, supporting non-food based advanced biomass energy production such as cellulosic ethanol and woody biomass power.

• Research to promote the commercialization of new agricultural innovations.

• Rural development initiatives to help rural communities upgrade infrastructure, extend broadband internet availability and create a better environment for small businesses.

House and Senate ag committees take action on new farm bill

May 14th, 2013 Chris Kick

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.