On April 26, the Senate Agriculture Committee passed their version of a 2012 Farm Bill by a vote of 16-5 that would gear the farm safety net to a program based on crop insurance and revenue guarantees.
Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) has a significant interest in the preservation of the crop insurance program and the legislation that was voted out of the Senate Agriculture committee runs parallel with membership policy goals.
Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Senator Debbie Stabenow felt that the strength of this vote in Committee would be enough to secure floor time for the bill in the upcoming weeks.
The bill is estimated to save $24.7 billion over a 10-year period by taking a $6.5 billion reduction to conservation programs, 19% reduction to crop subsidies, and a $4 billion cut to nutrition programs.
The most contentious changes of the legislation regarded the commodity title, which saw direct payments come to an end to be replaced with payment distributions to farmers when price deviations or crop yield losses occur that would result in changes from average revenue amounts. This is where the southern contingent of Senators took umbrage with the policy, citing that the growers they represent would not receive the coverage they needed due to the nature of growing and marketing their crops.
Many changes were made in the conservation title, mainly streamlining the existing 23 programs into 13 and reducing the acreage in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which pays farmers to take highly erodible land out of production for the purpose of conservation. CRP acreage reduction was a policy goal for the ARA membership and the Senate bill reflects a positive outcome with the acreage being reduced to 25 million from the existing 32 million acres by 2017.
Although many of the policy goals adopted by ARA over this past year were realized, there are still a few battles yet to win which are as follows:
- Inclusion of H.R. 872. Regulatory Reduction Act of 2011, which would provide the agriculture industry with certainty in pesticide application and help to clarify Clean Water Act (CWA) jurisdiction. This would make any product approved under FIFRA permitted for use without the need for an NPDES permit or any further regulatory compliance standard.
- CRP. Although the acreage was reduced to a desirable in the CRP program, the push for more flexible contract terms is still on. CRP participants should be offered more flexibility in contract terms by being allowed to opt out early from part or the entirety of their contracts. There are many instances in which the contract lengths are too long and do not provide those CRP participants with the opportunity to take advantage of emerging techniques and technologies in the production of corn, soybeans, or other crops that can be used for additional feed, food, and fiber as well as the production of renewable energy.
- TSP/ State Technical Committees. There is still a need for more industry representatives for the Technical Service Provider (TSP) program on State Technical Committees. ARA is supportive of TSP program; however, there needs to be a better working relationship between the USDA and the private sector. Considering most of the contract work is being performed by retired NRCS personnel and it is a missed opportunity for business owners to provide assistance to their farmer customers, especially in rural economies where small business assistance is needed most.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives held their first hearings yesterday to consider the Farm Bill, with conservation title being discussed in the morning and dairy support programs being the topic for the afternoon. The conservation hearing had two panels of witnesses delivering testimony with participation from groups such as the National Association of Conservation Districts, National Association of Corn Growers, and Pheasants Forever. The groups generally expressed support for the conservation title of the legislation, referring to it as a bipartisan accomplishment, but warning that any further cuts to these programs could seriously reduce effectiveness. Jon Scholl, president of the American Farmland Trust, was adamant in letting committee members know that it was essential to keep the core elements of each program intact when combining programs to streamline the totality of the conservation offering.
The House of Representatives will continue to hold Farm Bill hearings through May 18.
ARA encourages you to contact your members of Congress and educate them on why these issues are important to your business and to agriculture as a whole. The timing of this upcoming week of recess provides the perfect opportunity to reach out to congressional offices and make your concerns known before this legislation reaches the Senate floor or is taken up in the House Agriculture Committee.
To take action and send a message directly to your legislator, click here.