NSAC's Blog

Path to the 2012 Farm Bill: Senate Markup – Funding Levels

May 1, 2012

Note to Readers:  This is the fifth in a series of posts on the 2012 Farm Bill reported out of the Senate Agriculture Committee on April 26.

How does the version of the 2012 Farm Bill passed out of the Senate Agriculture Committee stack up against the farm bill budget recommendations made by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition?  That is the topic of this post.

First, we urged Congress not to reduce farm bill spending disproportionately relative to other government mandatory spending, excluding anti-poverty programs.  On this score the Senate bill was not too far off, proposing to cut ten-year farm bill spending by $23 billion, relative to a proportional amount in the mid-teens, and significantly less than the amounts proposed to be cut by the Obama Administration and the House-passed budget resolution.

We are still awaiting a final scoring table and will issue another post with more details once we have that in hand, as changes made during markup will affect the totals in different titles.

Second, we urged Congress to not cut anti-hunger programs.  There the Senate bill proposes to cut the SNAP or food stamp program by $4 billion over the next ten years, considerably less than the $33 billion SNAP cut agreed to by the House Agriculture Committee on a strictly partisan vote two weeks ago.

The Senate Committee-proposed cut would limit states’ ability to coordinate Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and SNAP benefits, reducing SNAP benefits for households eligible for but receiving the smallest LIHEAP benefits.  Currently, the District of Columbia and 14 states (CT, ME, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OR, PA, RI, VT, WA, WI) implement “Heat and Eat” policies, with California soon to join the list.

Third, we urged Congress to limit cuts to conservation programs to only those resulting from attrition in the Conservation Reserve Program.  We made particular note of the over $3 billion already cut from conservation title programs through the backdoor “changes in mandatory program spending” device in annual agricultural spending bills, noting that these combined forces already are reducing conservation programs by more than 10 percent.

Here the Senate bill, like the draft bill prepared for the ill-fated super committee last fall, is a disappointment, involving a net additional cut of $2.5 billion, primarily from working lands conservation programs, with the biggest cut coming from the Conservation Stewardship Program.  Adding insult to injury, nothing in the new title proposes any changes to conservation funding to guard against further erosion from future changes in mandatory program spending in future appropriations bills, including several proposed just last week in the Senate version of the FY 2013 agricultural appropriations bill.

Fourth, we called on Congress to take action in the farm bill to reverse the steady decline in public investments in rural economic and job growth.  Here the Senate Committee’s farm bill is a big disappointment.  It includes no funding for rural development programs at all, potentially reversing progress made in each of the last three farm bills to provide funding for rural business and infrastructure development.  This inexcusable oversight will hopefully be reversed when the bill is brought to the Senate floor.

Fifth, we called on Congress to renew mandatory funding for key farm bill programs that spur jobs, innovation, economic growth and sustainable development.  Below are tables for programs supported by NSAC that have mandatory farm bill funding in the current farm bill cycle and their status in the Senate Committee-passed farm bill.

Beginning and Minority Farmers

Program Current Farm Bill Funding NSAC Recommended Funding Level Senate Committee Funding Level
Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development $19 million/yr $25 million/yr $10 million/yr
Outreach & Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers $20 million/yr $25 million/yr $5 million/yr
CRP Transition Incentives Program $25 million/5yr $83 million/5 yr $50 million/5 yr

Rural Development

Program Current Farm Bill Funding NSAC Recommended Funding Level Senate Committee Funding Level
Value-Added Producer Grants $15 million/5 yr; Previous Farm Bill – $40 million/yr $30 million/yr $0
Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program $3 million/year $10 million/ yr $0

Organic and Local Food

Program Current Farm Bill Funding NSAC Recommended Funding Level Senate Committee Funding Level
Organic Research & Extension Initiative $20 million/yr $30 million/yr $16 million/yr
National Organic Certification Cost Share $22 million/5 yr $7 million/yr $11.5 million/yr
Farmers Market & Local Food Promotion Program $10 million/yr $30 million/yr $20 million/yr
Community Food Grants $5 million/yr $10 million/yr $10 million/yr for 5 yrs, then $5 million/yr

Renewable Energy

Program Current Farm Bill Funding NSAC Recommended Funding Level Senate Committee Funding Level
Rural Energy for America Program $70 million/yr $50 million/yr $48.2 million/yr
Biomass Crop Assistance Program $70 million/5 yr $40 million/yr $38.6 million/yr

In addition to these four categories of programs, we also urged Congress to renew funding for the Wetlands Reserve Program and the Grassland Reserve Program.  The Senate farm bill does so, but under a new merged easement program and at considerably lower funding levels than under the current farm bill cycle.  You can read more about that in our conservation title blog post.

Specialty crop programs were also part of Senate farm bill action on funding renewals and increases.  Specialty Crop Block Grants were boosted from $55 million per year to $70 million per year.  The Specialty Crop Research Initiative over the long term stayed at the current level of $50 million per year, though it first takes a dip in the next few years.  The Department of Defense Fresh program for fruit and vegetable delivery to schools and service institutions remains at $50 million per year.  Specialty crop purchases under Section 32 (government purchases of commodities) were also continued at current funding.  Also, a brand new program to support SNAP incentives (e.g., Double Bucks programs) at farmers markets was funded at $20 million per year.

From these charts it becomes clear that there are two major places in which the Senate Committee bill is grossly deficient, namely rural development and beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.  Not that other areas could not benefit from more robust funding, but these two areas clearly fared the worst, and therefore become NSAC priorities for improvements as the bill heads to the Senate floor and ultimately to the House.

Sixth, and last, we urged Congress to make reductions to commodity and insurance program spending in a manner that is fair and that supports economic opportunity, including meaningful and effective caps on all subsidies.   Some progress was made in the Senate Committee bill on this front, most notably the closing of the major loophole in current law that allows single farming operations to collect many multiple times the statutory payment cap on commodity program benefits.

Sadly, however, in the midst of creating brand new commodity and crop insurance programs, the Committee failed to develop a coherent and comprehensive policy with respect to subsidy limits, allowing crop and revenue insurance benefits as well as marketing loan gains to flow without any limits at all.  No matter how large a farm is or how wealthy the entity owning the farm is, the taxpayer is still on the hook for paying the bulk of the farm’s premium subsidies on every last acre.  This folly will surely face further debate on the House and Senate floor.

Categories: Budget and Appropriations, Farm Bill, General Interest

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