NEW FARM BILL GAINS MOMENTUM
MONTGOMERY, Ala., May 16, 2013 — Alabama farmers are hopeful a farm bill may finally be passed this year, following committee approval of two versions of the bill this week.
The U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture passed its version of the farm bill Tuesday, and the House Committee on Agriculture passed its version late Wednesday evening.
“We want to thank U.S. Reps. Mike Rogers and Martha Roby for representing the interests of Alabama producers as the House Ag Committee considered the legislation, as well as their votes to report the bill out of committee,” said Alabama Farmers Federation National Legislative Programs Director Mitt Walker. “While a few amendments we opposed were adopted, it is important now to continue work toward the ultimate passage of a new five-year bill.”
The 2008 farm bill expired at the end of 2012, but funding for numerous programs ran out months earlier.
In their current form, both the House and Senate versions of the farm bill eliminate direct payments to farmers. The provision primarily affects farmers who grow corn, wheat, soybeans and cotton. The Senate bill eliminates direct payments immediately, while the House bill would phase out payments to cotton farmers over the next two years as the Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX) for Upland Cotton is implemented.
Both bills are designed to offer producers a choice between two types of coverage for losses. In the Senate bill, producers would be able to choose between a revenue protection plan known as Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC), or a price protection program known as the Adverse Market Program (AMP). Last year’s Senate bill did not include AMP, and its inclusion is indicative of new Ranking Member Thad Cochran’s influence, Walker said. Mirroring last year’s draft, the House bill includes a choice between revenue and price protection with programs known as Revenue Loss Coverage (RLC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC), respectively.
“Although there are some differences in the specifics of how the programs work, the Senate’s decision to include a price-based protection program this year really brings some continuity to the two bills with respect to the Commodity Title,” said Walker. “This common ground should allow for a smoother path to final passage.”
Livestock farmers’ needs were represented in the House and Senate versions. The bills would restore insurance programs for livestock producers, which expired in 2011 and left thousands of operations without disaster coverage during the worst drought in half a century. Dairy farmers were also considered during the drafting process.
According to Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., the Dairy Security Act included in the House and Senate versions creates a margin protection between national milk prices and the average cost of feed. This voluntary program allows producers to receive basic coverage and purchase additional coverage if desired.
“We appreciate Congressman Rogers supporting the position of Alabama dairy farmers by opposing the Goodlatte-Scott Amendment, which would have made significant changes to the Dairy Security Act,” Walker said.
An amendment opposed by the Alabama Farmers Federation repealing the USDA catfish inspection program passed, despite Roby’s and Rogers’ votes to oppose the measure.
In addition to farm program cuts, the House and Senate versions include cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — or food stamps. Of the House’s projected $39.7 billion spending cuts over the next 10 years, just over half — $20.5 billion — would come from SNAP. Meanwhile, the Senate’s version cuts spending by $23 billion, with $4.1 billion of the cuts affecting SNAP funding. SNAP cuts would come, in part, by eliminating the automatic qualification of people for food stamp benefits when they sign up for other governmental assistance programs. Cuts to the program were a point of contention when trying to pass a farm bill last year, and expectations of further debate are expected to continue. However, congressional leaders agree a new farm bill is needed and are working to accomplish this task, Walker said.
The full Senate is expected to start work on the bill May 20. No date has been set in the House, but action is expected this summer. Programs extended from the 2008 farm bill end Sept. 30.