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Farm Bill Update – November 4, 2011

November 4, 2011


There was much speculation this week that the leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees were close to finalizing a farm bill to send to the Super Committee today; however, no agreement has yet emerged.

The chairs and ranking members of both committees had agreed in their October 14 letter to the Super Committee, to deliver a farm bill by November 1.  The Super Committee now has only three days to get its own recommendations, which must total at least $1.2 trillion in cuts over 10 years, to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) by November 7 so that they can be scored for savings.  If the Super Committee does not deliver its recommendations by November 7, CBO has said it may not have enough time to score the package before November 23, which is the deadline for the Super Committee to formally submit its recommendations to Congress.

In its October 14 letter to the Super Committee, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK), Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN), Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-KS) recommended a net $23 billion cut in mandatory farm bill spending over the next decade.  As has been widely reported, roughly $15 billion of the $23 billion is expected to come from commodity program payments, with about $6 billion coming from conservation programs, and $4 billion from nutrition programs.  Rumors suggest that the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) will bear the brunt of the cut to conservation, while changes to categorical eligibility for SNAP (food stamps) within the Low-income Home Energy Assistance Program (LiHEAP) will account the bulk of the nutrition cut.

There will be a total of about $2 billion in new spending in the bill, with some of the money going toward specialty crop programs.  However, the future of the many other important programs that lack baseline funding remains uncertain at this point.  These include the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), Grasslands Reserve Program (GRP), Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP), Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG) program, Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers, Rural Energy for America (REAP), Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), National Organic Certification Cost Share Program, and Farmers’ Market Promotion Program (FMPP).  With only rumors to go on, we believe some and perhaps most of these programs are in the mix, but there is little to no information about funding levels.

As we previously reported, over the last week or so, two important bills were introduced in Congress for inclusion in the farm bill.  The Beginning Farmer Rancher Opportunity Act (H.R. 3236) is a bipartisan bill introduced in the House by Representatives Tim Walz (D-MN) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and others on October 25.  Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), with Senators Pat Leahy (D-VT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Al Franken (D-MN) and others, will introduce an identical companion bill together at the beginning of next week.

On November 1, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1) and 35 original co-sponsors introduced the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act (S. 1773, H.R. 3286) to help farmers and ranchers address production, aggregation, processing, marketing, and distribution needs and assist consumers by improving access to healthy food.  Parts of each bill are being considered by the agriculture committees as they write the farm bill; however we do not yet know the extent to which each will be included in the final product delivered to the Super Committee.

We will continue to push for full consideration of both bills, including its funding recommendations.

A final agreement between the leaders of the agriculture committees has been delayed, in part, by negotiations over Title 1, the Commodity Programs title.  Rumors suggest that the title will include a shallow loss program to pay commodity crop producers when they experience small but long-term losses in revenue.  It is also likely to include an ongoing option for the existing counter cyclical payment program, expected to be of most interest to rice, peanut, and wheat producers.  Also rumored is a special revenue insurance program for cotton known as the Stacked Income Protection Plan or STAX.  It is still assumed the committees will recommend eliminating direct payments.

We cannot say with any certainty what is included in the draft farm bill at this point.  The rumors about the commodity title do not seem to include per farm subsidy limitations for all commodity and insurance programs, nor reform actively engaged in farming law to close the loopholes that today invite massive abuse, nor application of conservation requirements to all commodity and insurance programs.  Whether agreement has been reached on those issues remains to be seen.  Our view of the outcome will hinge in part on the answers to those questions.

Importantly, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Tim Johnson (D-SD) yesterday sent a letter and a new commodity reform bill to the Super Committee urging them to do real commodity payment limitation reform.  As written by Senators Grassley and Johnson, the new bill would apply to any programs — new or old — that the agriculture committee leadership includes in the new Title 1 program.  NSAC issued a strong statement of support.

Also yesterday, Reps. Ron Kind (D-WI) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) delivered a letter to the Super Committee in opposition to the agriculture committees writing a farm bill without public hearings and input, or, “outside of regular order,” as the letter puts it.

It remains to be seen what the agriculture committees will release this weekend, or next week.  And beyond that, the Super Committee may or may not decide to accept the agriculture committees’ recommendations.  It could accept them or reject them, modify them or write new policy altogether.  Time will tell what the outcome will be, though it must tell before November 23, and, if CBO wishes are to be heeded, by sometime next week. 


Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Budget and Appropriations, Conservation, Energy & Environment, Farm Bill, Local & Regional Food Systems


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