Before the Senate took up official debate of its version of the 2012 Farm Bill this week, the initial list of amendments hit 90. By the time the measure was moving on the floor - or rather not moving - the list of amendments had ballooned to 220, and not all were directed at the farm bill.
However, it's clear that those regional differences over the farm safety net are already bubbling up as amendments get reviewed, and in many cases tabled, by Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Two amendments have so far cleared the system - one looks at creating food stamps as a block grant, and the other looks at ending the Sugar Program.
The discussion was wide-ranging, as the non-farm bill amendments clogged the list of actions that might be taken. The swelling list of amendments does contain measure that would add to the significant changes proposed by this version of the farm bill from packer ownership to means testing or limits on adjusted gross incomes for folks receiving farm bill payments.
The regional differences arise due to the proposed end of direct and countercyclical payments, which farmers in the South - including not only peanut and rice growers, but even corn growers - say would hurt them financially.
A Politico report on debate details a proposal by Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., to bring back a regionalized from of the direct and countercyclical payment program. The argument is over price targets for peanuts and rice - both crops with a different investment and risk profile that Midwest corn and soybeans. According to the report, the Chambliss move would give farmers the option of using the program with target prices for each crop - $534 per ton for peanuts and $13.98 per ton for rice. Those prices would be enough to cover cost of production but not guarantee a farmer a profit in the event of a disaster.
Nutrition programs remain another challenge for the bill. A proposed cut of $4.5 billion isn't sitting well with some in the Senate - or the Obama Administration either. Nutrition programs make up about 80% of the farm bill. And while some are against the cuts, there are Republicans in the House and Senate that would like to see bigger cuts in the program.
Fox News talked with the chair of USA Rice Producers Group who says direct payments have been the key program for those farmers in the past. The proposed changes to the bill could impact the crop mix in the future.
Even corn growers are concerned about changes to the bill. The Corn Producers Association of Texas issued a statement last week that says the Senate Bill "does not give farmers the freedom to choose the risk management tool that fits their operation. Corn growers in many areas, especially Texas, need options," the statement says.
David Gibson, executive vice president of the association says: "It's kind of lilke Cinderella's slipper; if it fits you, then you live happily ever after. If it doesn't fit, you're just out of luck - and maybe out of business."
The concern with the new Agricultural Risk Coverage program is that if there is a big drop in prices, and that drop persists over time, there won't be long-term help. There's also a concern about how local yields impact support for crops, in some cases county averages in Southern producing areas are lower which means the program doesn't work as well is it would in the Midwest as a safety net.
Beyond the farm bill
A casual observer of the debate Tuesday might have been surprised to find that a lot of the talk wasn't about the farm bill but about an amendment from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., concerning an imprisoned doctor in Pakistan. Dr. Shakil Afridi is credited with helping the U.S. find Osama Bin Laden, but is now being held in prison.
It's not uncommon for unrelated amendments to be tacked on to legislation moving through Congress. Paul's Afridi move is just one of dozens submitted this week that will probably slow the process.
Key ag-related measures that still to be considered would involve packer ownership of cattle, limits on farmer adjusted gross income - there are a range of proposed approaches from $250,000 to $750,000 - for receiving benefits. And buried in 220 amendments there are dozens of wording changes that if approved could impact different programs.
Debate does continue this week. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., continues to express optimism that the measure will pass the Senate in a few weeks.