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Stabenow farm bill would end direct payments, strengthen crop insurance

Stabenow's draft farm bill may be opening salvo in 2012 farm bill debate.  Chair's mark would eliminate direct payments first included in the 1996 farm bill. Stronger crop insurance programs would replace the currect farm safety net.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow has released a new draft farm bill that would eliminate direct payments but increase risk management provisions while reducing farm program expenditures by $23 billion.

Stabenow is expected to present the 900-page chair’s mark, as it is called, to the full Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Nutrition later this week. The chairman has said she hopes to pass new farm legislation this summer.

The draft puts into language what many farm legislation observers have been predicting for months: Commodity producers would no longer receive direct payments for program crops whether they are growing those crops or not.

“Farmers will no longer be paid for crops they are not growing, will not be paid for acres that are not actually planted, and will not receive support absent a drop in price or yields,” the Stabenow draft legislation says.

The legislation would also consolidate two remaining farm programs into one and give farmers the ability to tailor risk management coverage meaning they would receive better protection against real risks beyond a farmer’s control.

“Farmers face unique risks unlike other businesses,” it said. “Weather and market conditions outside a producer’s control can have devastating effects. A risk management system that helps producers stay in business through a few bad seasons ensures that Americans always have access to a safe and plentiful food supply.”

By eliminating duplicative programs, the legislation will concentrate funds in the areas in which they will have the greatest impact. For example, the bill consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13 programs, while maintaining the existing tools farmers and landowners need to protect and conserve land, water and wildlife.

“At a time when many out-of-work Americans are in need for the first time in their lives, it is critical that every taxpayer dollar be spent responsibly and serves those truly struggling,” Stabenow said. “By closing loopholes, tightening standards, and requiring greater transparency, the proposal increases efficiency and improves effectiveness.”

The proposal also increases efficiency and accountability, saving tens of billions of dollars overall, while strengthening agricultural jobs initiatives by:

  • Expanding export opportunities and helping farmers develop new markets for their goods.
  • Investing in research to help commercialize new agricultural innovations.
  • Growing bio-based manufacturing (businesses producing goods in America from raw agricultural products grown in America) by allowing bio-manufacturers to participate in existing U.S. Department of Agriculture loan programs, expanding the BioPreferred labeling initiative, and strengthening a procurement preference so the U.S. government will select bio-based products when purchasing needed goods.
  • Spurring advancements in bio-energy production, supporting advanced biomass energy production such as cellulosic ethanol and pellets from woody biomass for power.
  • Helping family farmers sell locally by increasing support for farmers’ markets and spurring the creation of food hubs to connect farmers to schools and other community-based consumers.
  • Extending rural development initiatives to help rural communities upgrade infrastructure and create an environment for small businesses to grow.
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