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Farm bill reopening threats remain

Farm bill reopening threats remain
House appropriations bill could reauthorize commodity certificates and offer loophole around farm bill payment limitations.

There have been four attempts to re-open the 2014 Farm Bill this year. The first, crop insurance cuts, will be erased with the highway bill deal. As the omnibus appropriations bill goes into the final stretches before being filed sometime early the week of Dec. 7, three other farm bill re-openers remain pending.  

The budget deal passed last month contained $3 billion in cuts to the crop insurance program, with promises to fix the cut in passage later this year. On Dec. 1 the negotiated text of the long-term highway bill included language to restore the crop insurance cuts, gaining praise from agricultural interests.

House and Senate agriculture committee leaders were united and unwavering in their opposition to the cuts when it was proposed last month and had secured promises from Congressional leadership that the farm bill would not be reopened.

"I appreciate the dedication to America’s farmers shown by our leadership in ensuring crop insurance remains the number one tool in our producers’ risk management tool box,” said Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

The underlying House agriculture appropriations bills re-opens the conservation title of the 2014 Farm Bill and cuts farm bill mandatory spending for working lands conservation by over $600 million for FY 2016.  The underlying House bill also re-opens the commodity title in an attempt to allow a small handful of the largest cotton farms in the country to evade the farm bill's payment limitations, and delays the application of conservation requirements to receipt of crop insurance premium subsidies by a year.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, explained the importance of not reopening the farm bill in the omnibus spending bill.

Section 739 of the House Agriculture Appropriations Bill reauthorized commodity certificates which he said are a way around payment limits. “The language in the House bill specifically directs USDA to administer commodity certificates as they were in 2008 when they were not subject to any payment limits at all.”

Omnibus bills can push through many provisions that wouldn’t be approved in regular circumstances. “If the agriculture community wants to be taken seriously, we should heed our own advice and not reopen the Farm Bill by reauthorizing commodity certificates,” the long-time payment limit champion Grassley said.

The underlying Senate agriculture appropriations bill does not re-open the payment limits or conservation compliance issues, but does re-open the conservation title to cut nearly $400 million from working lands conservation programs for this fiscal year.


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