FARM BILL DEBATE HEATS UP AS SUMMER APPROACHES
Alabama farmers are keeping one eye on their crops and the other on Congress as the Senate debates a new farm bill that could hinder their ability to withstand low prices and crop disasters.
Alabama Farmers Federation National Legislative Programs Director Mitt Walker said the Senate began debating its version of the bill June 6. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the proposed legislation would cut $23.5 billion from commodity, conservation and nutrition spending over a 10-year period.
“We are particularly concerned about the attempts to attach new conservation compliance requirements, as well as means testing and payment limits to crop insurance programs,” Walker said. “With the proposed elimination of direct and counter-cyclical payments, farmers would be looking to crop insurance as the primary fabric of the safety net, and the promise of this risk management tool should not come with strings attached.”
The Senate’s Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, or S. 3240, would cut nearly $20 billion from the Commodity Title, more than $6 billion from the Conservation Title, and almost $4 billion from the Nutrition Title. The bill would eliminate both direct and countercyclical payments, but would create a new Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) program at an estimated cost of about $28.5 billion over 10 years.
This ARC program is designed to supplement traditional crop insurance and offset “shallow” losses that typically do not trigger a payment from crop insurance. It would cover all program crops with the exception of cotton, which would fall under a separate program.
Although the bill was reported out of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry in late April, Walker said lawmakers and commodity groups remain divided about provisions of the legislation. As a result, lawmakers expect a flurry of amendments.
These amendments will likely include a move to mandate new requirements on egg producers based on a recent agreement between the United Egg Producers and the Humane Society of the United States. Other amendments are likely to propose means testing and payment limits for crop insurance premiums. Environmental organizations also are pushing a measure that would require conservation compliance on farms participating in crop insurance programs. However, lawmakers say there is a possibility that a procedural maneuver could be used to force a vote on the bill with no amendments.
Meanwhile, the House Committee on Agriculture is on track to mark up its version of the farm bill later this month. U.S. Rep. Frank Lucus (R-Okla.), who serves as chairman of the committee, has indicated he is committed to designing a commodity title that offers producers a choice between programs that will work best for them.
Some commodity groups have expressed concerns that the ARC program in the Senate bill is a one-size-fits-all approach that does not consider the needs of traditional Southern crops like peanuts and rice.
“It seems, at this point in time, that the House may be moving towards a Commodity Title that will look quite a bit different than the bill that will be considered by the Senate,” Walker said. “I also think we will see the House looking for more savings in the Nutrition Title.”
The Federation’s Farm Bill Committee continues to monitor the farm bill debate and set priorities for discussions with Alabama’s congressional delegation and other key lawmakers. The committee, which includes farmers representing a variety of commodities and regions of the state, met May 30 to review the Senate proposal.