The mark up of the Senate version of the 2012 Farm Bill went smoothly this week, with some challenge regarding a loss of direct payments and cuts to nutrition programs. Overall, groups are chiming in with support of the measure - knowing that they can take their case to the full Senate when deliberation of the measure begins there.
Here are a few statements received after the bill cleared the Senate:
Gene Schmidt, president, National Association of Conservation Districts says the association and its 3,000 member districts "applaud the Senate Agriculture Committee for its swift approval of the 2012 Farm Bill. Today's vote demonstrates a strong commitment to American agriculture and the protection of our precious natural resource base for the future, while at the same time reducing our nation’s deficit by more than an estimated $23 billion. We’re especially pleased with a strong Conservation Title that streamlines and consolidates programs for increased efficiency and ease-of-use for producers, while maintaining critical funding for valuable Technical Assistance helping provide adequate boots on the ground to implement conservation where it counts. We encourage the full Senate to act quickly and vote in favor of this bipartisan, common-sense bill."
For Garry Niemeyer, president, National Corn Growers Association, and Illinois corn grower, the Senate Committee's approval gets positive marks too: "The National Corn Growers Association appreciates the efforts by the Senate Agriculture Committee to pass the 2012 farm bill. We realize a lot of hard work was put in by committee members and staff over the past several days and we are pleased to see an agreement was reached. While no legislative product is perfect, we believe the bulk of the legislation passed by the committee is consistent with corn growers' policy."
Steve Wellman, president of the American Soybean Association, and a Syracuse, Neb., farmer, says his organization is pleased with the Senate's work "including the inclusion of a revenue-based risk management program that is equitable between crops, and will partially offset losses incurred at either the farm level or the county level."
Other provisions of the new bill ASA liked include its consolidation of multiple conservation programs, targeting of conservation funding toward conservation measures on working lands versus land retirement, authorization and funding for the new Foundation for Food and Agriculture, full funding of the Foreign Market Development Program (Cooperator) and Market Access Program (MAP), and mandatory funding for ASA’s two Energy Title priorities, the Biobased Market Program and the Biodiesel Education Program.
For the Center for Rural Affairs, the Senate version of the farm bill "for the first time in a generation closes the gaping loopholes that have made a mockery of the farm program payment limitation," says Chuck Hasssebrook. "Most of all, we thank Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, for his tireless advocacy for reducing subsidies for mega farms to drive family farms out of business."
Hassebrook doesn't want to stop there, however, noting that the next step would be to apply those same limits to uncapped premium subsidies for federal crop insurance. "Crop insurance subisdies are the highest in times of high prices - when they are needed the least. That's because it costs more to insure $6 corn than $4 corn. Crop insurance costs have doubled in the last 5 years and quadrupled in the last $10 years," he says.
Conservation and the Energy Title got more attention from groups knowing that the markup print has cleared with few amendments. The National 25x'25 Alliance was positive in its assessment of the Committee's work as well. The group highlighted work by Sens. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., for drafting an amendment to provide mandatory funding for energy programs in the bill. The Conrad-Lugar amendment would set mandatory funding totaling $241 million over five years for the Rural Energy for American Program and $19 million for Bioenergy Crop Assistance Program. Another $216 million would be required over the life of the new farm bill for the Biorefinery Assistance Program, and $5 million for a Biodiesel Education Program.
In its statement, the group called on renewable energy advocates to "maintain their support throughout the legislative and appropriations process, noting that the continued existence of these farm energy programs is far from guaranteed. The measure still faces a Senate floor vote, and House members are expected to come up with a far different energy title."
The operative word in the amendment is "mandatory" which the 25x'25 group believes is key. "Without mandatory spending, Congress could authorize little to no money for programs," the group says.
During the committee's deliberation there was discussion over discretionary and mandatory payments and programs. Those issues will be sure to surface again on the Senate floor.
On the crop insurance front, a significant part of the farm bill - especially with direct payments out of the picture, for now - drew a reaction from a major insurance provider. National Crop Insurance Services issued a statement from the company president Tom Zacharias, who noted that the bill, in its current form, "responded to calls from growers of most major crops by keeping crop insurance strong and ensuring that it will remain at the forefront of modern-day farm policy. We appreciate the Committee’s efforts to improve the crop insurance title and limit the adverse impacts of other programs on crop insurance. The fact that farmers are in the fields planting following a difficult 2011 growing season shows how well the current crop insurance system is working."