June 19, 2012
We are delighted to report that the U.S. Senate today passed an amendment to the 2012 Farm Bill providing $150 million in critical funding for rural economic development and new farmer programs. The amendment, introduced and championed by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), was approved on a 55-44 vote, with Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) in support.
The amendment will provide $35 million for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, the keystone new farmer program at USDA, bringing its total funding in the Senate farm bill to $85 million, or $17 million a year over the 5-year farm bill life cycle. It also provides $50 million over five years for the Value-Added Producer Grants program that helps farmers transition to new markets and products that return more of the consumer food dollar back to the farmer and the local community. The Brown amendment also would fund the Rural Microentrepeneur Assistance Program at $15 million over the life of the bill to help start new small rural businesses. Rounding out the amendment, $50 million is provided to begin to eliminate the backlog in water and sewer projects in small rural communities.
The Brown amendment was one of the top Senate floor priorities for NSAC. We want to thank all of our members and allies that worked together to achieve this important victory. We also thank Senator Brown and Chairwoman Stabenow for their efforts.
We are also pleased to report that Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Tim Johnson (D-SD) won their amendment to place a per farm cap on commodity loan benefits received by farmers as marketing loan gains or loan deficiency payments by an overwhelming vote of 75-24. While today’s high commodity prices mean no such gains or payments are likely to be made in the next few years, the amendment is nonetheless important as commodity prices ebb and flow over time. Together with the historic payment limit reform provisions in the underlying bill, based on the Grassley-Johnson payment limit marker bill, today’s vote completes the reform task with respect to payment limits in the commodity title.
By voice vote today, the Senate adopted two amendments supported by NSAC that are important to Indian agriculture. Included in the Senate farm bill is an amendment by Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) to improve the implementation of the Highly Fractionated Land Loan program and an amendment by Akaka and Senator John Thune (R-SD) to establish a permanent Office of Tribal Relations at USDA to improve tribal access to USDA programs.
Two amendments strongly opposed by NSAC were defeated today. An amendment by Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) to temporarily shut down the Value-Added Producer Grant program and weaken its utility to the agricultural sector was defeated on a 38-61 vote. An amendment by Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) to remove all funding for the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program went down on a 42-57 vote.
On a negative note, the amendment by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) to modestly reduce the high guaranteed profit margin of crop insurance companies and use the savings to eliminate the cuts to the SNAP or food stamps program in the underlying bill failed on a 33-66 vote. While it was not an amendment likely to pass, we are nonetheless disappointed by a significant number of Senators who might normally had been expected to vote yes who yielded to bipartisan leadership pressure to vote no.
Also disappointing was the decision a day before today’s voting began to prevent a number of very important amendments from even being debated and voted on. These include the amendment by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) to fund the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers program, an amendment by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Pat Leahy (D-VT) to foster farm to school sales by local farmers to improve the health and well being of the nation’s students, an amendment by Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) to encourage more USDA-funded research on plant and animal breeding to improve health, nutrition, farm income, and food security, and an amendment by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to prevent big meat packers from manipulating prices paid to farmers and ranchers.
On Wednesday, June 20, the Senate will return to consideration of the farm bill and may finish the bill before the end of the day. Coming up are amendments by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) to improve crop insurance coverage for organic farmers, by Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) to relink soil and wetland conservation requirements to the receipt of crop insurance premium subsidies, and by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) to reduce insurance premium subsidies for millionaires.
NSAC joined forces with American Farmland Trust, National Farmers Union, and the Soil and Water Conservation Society today to urge the Senate to adopt the Chambliss conservation amendment.
We will continue our reporting on the Senate farm bill tomorrow. Later this week we expect House Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) to release his draft farm bill that his committee will markup and vote on next week. More on that once the bill becomes public information. Stay tuned!