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Congress lambasted by agriculture, conservation groups

Senate names farm bill conferees. FAPRI analysis compares farm bills offered by House and Senate. Commodity groups fed up with Congress over farm bill, government shutdown.

On Tuesday (October 1), only hours after the federal government shutdown and the 2008 farm bill extension expired, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid moved toward a new farm bill conference committee by re-appointing Senate conferees.

The move came after the House, three days earlier, passed a rule that rejoined farm and nutrition programs into a comprehensive farm bill for the Senate to consider.

More on the farm bill and government shutdown here, here and here.

The Senate conferees are: Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, Montana Sen. Max Baucus, Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, and North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven.

The House conferees are yet to be named.

“I’m pleased that the Senate has once again agreed to go to conference with the House on the farm bill and has re-appointed conferees,” said Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “The government shutdown and the expiration of the farm bill has created a double whammy of uncertainty for the economy and for the 16 million Americans who work in this country because of agriculture. The Senate has twice passed a comprehensive, bipartisan farm bill that will create jobs, reform agriculture policy and reduce the deficit by tens of billions of dollars. It’s time to finally get this done.”

New FAPRI analysis

When a farm bill finally reaches conference, new analysis by Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri (FAPRI-MU) will be available for the debate. The FAPRI study looks at “possible consequences of several key provisions” of the competing bills offered by the Senate and House.  

Read the FAPRI report here.

Among those provisions:

  • The elimination of the current Direct and Countercyclical Payment (DCP) and Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) programs, a common feature of both bills.
  • The establishment of Adverse Market Payments (AMPs), the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program, the Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX) and the Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO) in the Senate bill.
  • The establishment of Price Loss Coverage (PLC), Revenue Loss Coverage (RLC) programs and STAX, as well as a slightly different version of SCO, in the House bill.

A study summary says the two farm bills “have much in common and the consequences of the two bills would be similar in many respects. Both bills replace a Direct Payment program that makes payments that are not tied to current prices or production levels with new programs that offer support linked to current levels of production and prices. Average levels of federal farm program spending would be reduced under both bills, and most commodity market impacts would be relatively small.”

Other findings:

  • The program changes examined in this report reduce estimated 10-year net budgetary outlays by $18.1 billion under the Senate bill and $12.6 billion under the House bill. Estimates of the net budget savings of the same provisions by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) are $16.4 billion for the Senate bill and $15.9 billion for the House Committee bill.
  • SCO accounts for much of the difference in the estimated costs of the two bills, as the Title I provisions are estimated to have very similar net budgetary impacts.
  • The House and Senate bills provide different projected levels of support to producers of particular commodities. For example, the House bill provides more support than the Senate bill to rice, barley and peanuts, while the Senate bill provides more support than the House bill to corn and soybeans. Area and production estimates reflect these differences in projected benefits.
  • Program benefits will be very sensitive to market conditions and producer participation decisions, as the various programs provide protection against different types of financial risk.
  • Under each bill, average net farm income would decline slightly relative to what would happen under a simple continuation of current farm programs. Impacts on consumer food prices would be very small.

Livid with Congress

The small steps towards a new farm bill made by Congress in recent days haven’t been a shield from commodity and conservation advocacy groups’ collective disgust and ire.

"Congress has allowed the federal farm bill to expire, ending the legal authorization for the federal government to administer our nation's most basic and important farm programs which help farmers reduce costs and protect the environment on millions of acres of farmland, forests and rangeland across the United States,” said Andrew McElwaine, president of the American Farmland Trust. "On top of this, Congress has also shutdown the federal government and furloughed thousands of agriculture-related agency employees denying family farmers the technical assistance and hands-on help they need to run their businesses and protect farmland.

"One of these failures would be a hardship, but manageable if it did not last long. Taken together, the lack of action on these critical issues mean agricultural programs are not only without people to administer them, but they are now without authorization to even exist.

"The American Farmland Trust believes the lack of action is causing significant confusion in the farm economy, the nation's largest industry, and uncertainty among farmers who rely on these programs to operate efficiently and economically. Ultimately, we fear, the price of these twin failures will be seen by every consumer in the supermarket checkout line."

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said members of the organization “are deeply concerned over the political challenges that are making it next to impossible for Congress to reach a compromise on important legislation, while restoring fiscal order and setting a responsible course to get the federal budget back on track…

“Now that the 2008 farm bill extension has expired, farmers once again are left with uncertainty as to the safety net and risk management tools that are important in planning for next year’s crop. And come January, consumers once again face the impact of high food costs as decades-old farm policy kicks in.”

Cutting to the chase, Bing Von Bergen, president of the National Association of Wheat Growers, said “enough is enough. Funding the government is the basic charge of Congress, and policymaking on farm and nutrition policy impacts direct stakeholders and our economy as a whole.

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 “Two years running, wheat farmers are planting their next year’s crop without knowing what farm programs will exist by the time they harvest or how vital research, trade promotion and conservation programs will be funded while there is no farm law at all. Maneuvering around this level of uncertainty is no way to run a farm, and creating this level of uncertainty is no way to run a country. We call on our agriculture leaders and, more importantly, our leaders in the full House and Senate to move past regionalism and partisanship and get their jobs done.”

Congress has put all Americans “in a dire situation,” said Roger Johnson, president of National Farmers Union.“The uncertainty created by the failure to come to an agreement on how to fund the government has overshadowed a situation that impacts the livelihood of so many family farmers, ranchers, fishermen and hungry people in this country.

"Today marks the second time that the 2008 farm bill was set to expire. We are once again in a time of uncertainty and limbo. NFU urges Congress to end the partisan politics that are presently taking over the ability to accomplish any business. House leadership should appoint conferees to the farm bill conference committee so that a five-year, comprehensive bill can be put forward for the president to sign. We simply cannot afford another extension or period of inaction."

American Soybean Association president Danny Murphy, who farms near Canton, Miss., said he has, “run out of ways to say we’re disappointed” with Congress. “The farm bill authorized and provides critical funding for myriad programs on which farmers depend, including key conservation programs, indispensable foreign food assistance and market development activities, and industry-advancing research. … Once again, Congress fails to act and American farmers pay the price.”

Murphy pointed to shutdown programs that will impact soybean farmers. Those include conservation programs like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Foreign aid programs affected by the farm bill’s expiration include the Food for Peace Program, the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, and the Emerging Markets Program (EMP). Particularly impactful for the soybean industry will be the expiration of funding for the Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (Cooperator) Program (FMD).

“Congressional gridlock has cost farmers yet again, and we demand a stop to the political gamesmanship,” said Murphy.

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