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Key Amendments Debated During Farm Bill Markups This Week

May 18, 2013

Both the Senate and House Agriculture Committees held their respective committee “markup” sessions this week.  Initial drafts of the 2013 Farm Bill written mainly by the Chairs and Ranking Members of each committee were presented to members and modified through several hours of debate and committee votes through the amendment process.  While the Senate markup on Tuesday lasted only a few hours, the House markup dragged into the late hours of Wednesday night (click here to see our Amendment Tracker on key amendments that were voted on during committee).

Here is a recap of key amendments and votes from each farm bill markup session.  We will publish a brief analysis of the two bills next week, along with reports on consideration of the farm bill on the Senate floor, where it will be debated all week.

Commodities and Crop Insurance

One of the biggest topics of discussion during the Senate farm bill mark-up (second only to the debate around cuts to SNAP and other nutrition programs), was regional differences over commodity policies in Title I.  In a stark contrast to last year’s markup, when Sen. Roberts (R-KS) held the position of Ranking Member of the committee, the debate around this year’s commodity title centered around the target prices (government-guaranteed prices, called “market distorting” by critics) that were included in this year’s bill at the request of Ranking Member Cochran (R-MS).  The complete reversal in committee support among Republicans for this year’s Title I was made evident as those members voting nay on the farm bill last year – representing mostly southern states – changed their votes to yea this time around.   The same was true for those members hailing from Midwestern and Plains states, some of whom did not support the final passage of the bill this year but previously supported last year’s bill.  That opposition came despite acceptance of an amendment to keep target prices for corn, soybeans and wheat low and maintaining high target prices solely for rice and peanuts.

Conservation compliance was another topic of much heated debated in the Senate.  The successful amendment offered by Sen. Chambliss (R-GA) on the Senate floor last year was initially included in this year’s draft farm bill, but it was promptly replaced with a compromise negotiated by commodity and wildlife groups with encouragement from Chairwoman Stabenow (D-MI).  The compromise provides some additional common-sense elaboration on details of how conservation requirements would be re-applied to insurance subsidies, but it also include several major new enforcement loopholes.   Sen. Hoeven (R-ND) offered and brought to a vote several amendments that would have stripped or severely weakened the conservation compliance provision in the base bill, however each amendment was defeated by voice vote.

The Manager’s Amendment adopted at the outset of the markup included removal of the single crop insurance subsidy reform from the draft and last year’s Senate-passed bill, the  amendment championed by Sens. Durbin (D-IL) and Coburn (R-OK) that would reduce crop insurance premium subsidies by a modest amount for those farmers who have annual adjusted gross incomes of over $750,000, or $1.5 million for most married couples.  We expect to see this issue revisited as the farm bill moves to the Senate floor for debate.

On the other side of Capitol Hill in House committee markup, dairy and sugar were the two commodities that received the most discussion during consideration of Title I, provoked by Reps. Goodlatte (R-VA) and Scott (D-GA).  These measures failed on slimmer margins than in last year’s House Committee debate, and are very likely to be revisited once the farm bill is brought to the House floor.  Defeat of the Committee’s dairy provision on the House floor is one of several issues that could make finalizing a bill this year politically challenging.

On the crop insurance front, Rep. McIntyre (D-NC) offered an amendment backed by NSAC that would increase the per farm liability limit from $1 million to $1.5 million in the Whole Farm Diversified Risk Management Insurance product which would improve coverage and increase participation by diversified farmers, including specialty crops and mixed grain/livestock or dairy operations.  This amendment failed on a roll call vote of 22 to 22, with two likely yes votes momentarily out of the room, but a modified amendment that raised the limit to $1.25 million was later accepted by Chairman Lucas (R-OK).


Several NSAC-supported amendments that support and expand conservation programs were adopted in the bill that was reported out of the Senate Agriculture Committee, including:

  • Increased opportunity for conservation technical assistance (TA) by allowing USDA, rather than the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), to set TA rates.  It was championed by Sen. Heitkamp (D-ND),  and accepted as part of the manager’s amendment.
  • Expanded eligibility for water and wastewater utilities to partner with landowners under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to improve water quality.  It was championed by Sen. Boozman (R-AR), and accepted as part of the manager’s amendment.
  • Support for pollinator habitat for honeybees through USDA conservation programs.  Championed by Sen. Heitkamp, passed by voice vote.
  • Directing USDA to track the conversion of grasslands into cropland, as part of the nationwide “sodsaver” provision that was included in the mark.  It was championed by Sen. John Thune (R-SD), and accepted as part of the manager’s amendment.

Sens. Cowan (D-MA) and Leahy (D-MA) (and Rep. Kuster (D-NH) on the House side) offered and withdrew an amendment that would have eliminated the separate, much lower payment limit that organic farmers participating in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Organic Initiative are subject to compared to the regular EQIP payment limit – an issue we expect to see as the Farm Bills head to the Senate and House floor.  The leadership of both Committees opposed the measure as upsetting an agreement they reached between themselves back in the Fall of 2011.

During mark-up of the House bill, Rep. Nolan (D-MN) offered two amendments that would have improved the Conservation Stewardship Program — USDA’s largest working lands conservation program.  One, which would have restored funding for CSP back to the level agreed upon by the Committee leaders in 2011 and still reflected in the Senate bill, was rejected by voice vote, and another amendment that would have simplified the program’s ranking criteria to focus on conservation outcomes and simplify the program for farmers and their local USDA conservation staff, was rejected on a very close voice vote.

Beginning, Veteran and Minority Farmers

Although there were several amendments filed by Sen. Harkin (D-IA) to expand credit and new farmer training programs for new farmers, none were ultimately offered or voted on by the Senate Agriculture Committee after being rejected for inclusion in the manager’s amendment..  We expect some of these issues to be reintroduced on the Senate floor, such as one championed by Sens. Harkin and Casey (D-PA) last year to establish a microloan program targeted to beginning and veteran farmers.

An amendment offered by Sen. Baucus (D-MT) to include a priority on veteran farmers and ranchers within the Value-Added Producer Grants Program and the Conservation Reserve Transition Incentives Program was accepted into the manager’s amendment.  We were also pleased to see increased funding levels for the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program in the Chairwoman’s mark.  The $10 million a year funding, while still just half of the level from the last farm bill, is twice the funding as was included in the Senate bill last year.  In addition to Chairwoman Stabenow, thanks for the increase are also due to Sen. Hagan (D-NC).

Beginning farmers fared better on average in the underlying House Committee bill, including increased funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, now at $20 million a year, twice the level the House Committee bill included last year.  Chairman Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Peterson (D-MN) agreed to that increase in the underlying bill, although the set-aside for socially disadvantaged farmers and farmworkers is still eliminated – an issue NSAC hopes will be addressed on the House floor or in conference.

Beginning farmer champion Rep. Gibson (R-NY) offered an amendment during House markup to raise the maximum loan amount on direct farm ownership loans to keep pace with farmland inflation, and several members spoke in support of doing whatever is needed to expand opportunities for new farmers, including Reps. Kuster (D-NH), Maloney (D-NY), and Walz (D-MN)This amendment was ultimately withdrawn at the request of Ranking Member Peterson (D-MN) for further review and possible modification.  We hope to resolve this important issue regarding access to land for new farmers as the bill heads to the floor.

Both the Senate and House bills included amendments offered by Sen. Cochran (R-MS) and Rep. Fudge (D-OH) that would establish a socially disadvantaged farmer and rancher policy center.  Unfortunately, an amendment offered by Rep. Lujan Grisham (D-NM) to restore funding for training and outreach for minority, tribal, and veteran farmers was withdrawn during House markup, an issue we hope is resolved positively on the floor.

Local Food and Rural Development

During Senate markup, several NSAC-supported amendments were filed by key champions of local food and economic development, some of which were accepted and others offered but ultimately withdrawn.  These include:

  • Sen. Cowan’s (D-MA) amendment to expand lending through USDA’s Farm Service Agency to farmer and ranchers producing for local and regional food markets.  It was accepted as part of the manager’s amendment.
  • Sen. Brown’s (D-OH) amendment to give rural development programs more flexibility to support strategic regional community and economic development investment strategies.  It was adopted by voice vote.
  • Sen. Brown’s amendment to restore funding to the levels included in last year’s Senate-passed bill for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), Community Food Projects (CFP) and SNAP Employment and Training.  It was offered and withdrawn at the request of Chairwoman Stabenow – an issue we expect to see again, in whole or in part, on the floor.

On the House side, there were also several NSAC-supported amendments that were included in the final bill that was voted out of committee, including:

  • An amendment offered by Rep. Negrete McLeod (D-CA) to clarify that the full range of direct-to-consumer markets (including road-side stands and CSAs in addition to farmers markets) can access EBT technology provided by SNAP retailers.  It was accepted as part of the manager’s amendment.
  • An amendment offered by Rep. Courtney (D-CT) to direct USDA to conduct a study on how to increase data collection on the production and marketing of locally or regionally produced agricultural products, in an effort to better target programs geared towards expanding and facilitating local food systems.  It was accepted as part of the manager’s amendment.
  • An amendment offered by Rep. Fudge (D-OH) which authorizes the Healthy Food Financing Initiative – a public private partnership that attracts private investment in food-insecure communities – and authorized the Appropriations Committee to potentially fund it. .  This passed by a narrow margin in a roll call vote.

Key rural development champion Rep. McIntyre (D-NC) offered an amendment during House markup that would have restored critical mandatory funding for the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP) in order to continue to provide low-interest loan capital to small rural businesses.  Unfortunately, this amendment failed to pass by a vote of 20 to 25.

Research and Organic 

On the Senate side, an amendment filed by Sen. Harkin (D-IA) which would restore the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) to be a fully competitive research program by allowing a diversity of applicants to apply for funding, was accepted in the Manager’s Amendment.  This is an issue that NSAC and our allies have been working on since the program was created in 2008, and we will work to ensure this provision stays intact through conference.

There was much debate during both markups regarding amendments championed by Sens. Bennet (D-CO) and Gillibrand (D-NY) in the Senate, and Reps. Schrader (D-OR) and Ribble (R-WI) in the House, on whether or not to allow USDA to establish a research and promotion order (or “check-off program”) for organic producers.  The Senate amendment was accepted by voice vote and the House amendment passed 29-17.

Also on the organic front, Reps. Courtney (D-CT) and Kuster (D-NH) brought up an NSAC-supported amendment in the House that would have restored the mandatory funding that was eliminated for the Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives and the National Organic Program.  Rep. Costa (D-CA) also offered an amendment that would have striken the repeal of the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program in the House bill.  Funding for all three of these programs that are critical to the organic sector was provided in the Senate bill, however none of these amendments were brought to a vote during House markup.  We expect to revisit this issue on the House floor or during conference.

Harmful Amendments 

In addition to the key amendments that were voted on that support sustainable agriculture, rural communities and access to healthy food, there were several harmful amendments that were also debated during both markups.  One amendment offered by Sen. Roberts (R-KS) during Senate markup sought to exempt certain authorized pesticides from Clean Water Act regulation.  This amendment was ultimately offered and withdrawn due to the Chairwoman’s insistence that the issue was not germane to the Farm Bill.

Sen. Johanns (R-NE) in the Senate, and Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA) in the House, both offered amendments during markup that would eliminate the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for livestock and poultry products.  There were a few exchanges, mostly along party lines, from Republican members who claimed that COOL imposes restrictions on trade, and from Democratic members (including Brown, Heitkamp, and Baucus in the Senate, but also Rep. Noem (R-SD) in the House) who spoke up in support of COOL and a consumer’s right to know.  Both amendments were ultimately withdrawn, but they may return during floor debate.

Finally, an extremely harmful amendment offered by Reps. Conaway (R-TX) and Costa (D-CA) during markup of the House farm bill was approved by voice vote.  This amendment would repeal provisions in USDA’s Packers & Stockyards Act regulations that provide farmers with protection against deceptive and unfair practices in their dealings with meat and poultry packers and processors.  This amendment will also block USDA from taking any future action to issue regulations or adopt policies that would help level the playing field for farmers in their business dealings with packers and processors.  Although this is a major blow to livestock producers and contract poultry growers across country, NSAC and our allies will be working to fight this provision as the farm bill moves through the House and onto conference with the Senate.

Categories: Farm Bill

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