FARM BILL MAKES PROGRESS IN US SENATE
MONTGOMERY, Ala., May 30, 2013 — The full U.S. Senate is expected to complete work on a new five-year farm bill when members return from the Memorial Day recess next week.
While the Senate’s version of the farm bill — named the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 — cuts spending in farm programs and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, some amendments considered last week could benefit Alabama farmers.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., was successful in gaining bipartisan support for his amendment, which would allow farmers who have never irrigated their crops to apply for assistance under the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP). The amendment, which unanimously passed May 21, eliminates the USDA’s current restriction limiting AWEP to previously irrigated farms and ensures more Alabama farmers are eligible for USDA irrigation assistance programs.
Other amendments of interest to Federation members included those related to genetically modified food and crop insurance.
The defeat of S. Amdt. 965 regarding genetically modified food labeling aligns with both American Farm Bureau Federation and Alabama Farmers Federation policies. If passed, the amendment would have created excessive burdens for farmers and opened the door for future regulations.
Meanwhile, S. Amdt. 923, which would have prohibited crop insurance payments for tobacco farmers, was rejected. The Federation voiced concern about this amendment, noting that if passed, it would have set a precedent for prohibiting insurance payments on other crops in the future. S. Amdt. 1031, which seeks to increase tactics to deter crop insurance fraud, passed by unanimous vote and was supported by AFBF. Despite Federation and AFBF opposition, S. Amdt. 953 passed. Commonly known as the Durbin-Coburn amendment, it allows for the increase of crop insurance premiums by 15 percent for farmers with an annual adjusted gross income (AGI) of $750,000 or higher
When the Senate returns June 3, target prices are forecast to be a focus of debate. Federation policy supports an adequate safety net for producer income during both low prices and reduced yields.
Though a specific date has not been announced, the House is expected to take action on the farm bill mid-June. AFBF Farm Policy Expert Mary Kay Thatcher said she expects between 10 and 20 farm bill amendments to be offered for consideration on the House floor. As with the Senate, numerous amendments on crop insurance, rural development and nutrition programs are anticipated.