One Stop Shopping to Understand What’s Happening With The Farm Bill

Marc Brazeau

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Here is an attempt to pin down what’s going on with the Farm Bill. The changes to SNAP are covered in this post.

For starters, it was a bi-partisan effort and is likely to pass. Jerry Hagstrom reports in Progressive Farmer:

WASHINGTON (DTN) — The chairmen of both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees predicted Tuesday the farm bill will pass both houses of Congress and President Barack Obama will sign it into law.

Meanwhile, endorsements for the bill, which was unveiled Monday evening, poured in from all sectors of agriculture, except the meat industry and some anti-hunger advocates.

“Even though it took us two-and-a-half to three years, we have a really amazing bill here,” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., who chaired the conference committee, said Tuesday during a joint telephone news conference with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

Considering the budget situation and “the political rancor we have had to deal with in Congress and across the country,” Lucas said, it is “not just a good farm bill, but almost a miracle.”

“This has been a joint effort, it has been bipartisan every step of the way,” Stabenow added, noting the bill not only saves money and reauthorizes existing programs, but provides disaster assistance for both livestock producers and fruit growers and increases agricultural research.

David Rogers spells out is a bit of detail on the programs that will be replacing direct payments.

The first program, known as Agriculture Risk Coverage, promises early — but temporary — assistance to growers facing a downward cycle of prices. Payments would be triggered once prices fall 14 percentage points below the prior five-year average. But the subsidy covers only a narrow 10-point band — from 86 percent to 76 percent of revenues — and will fade after several years if prices don’t improve.

Farmers whose ARC payments are based on countywide results will be paid on 85 percent of base acres. Those who choose a more individual version tailored to their own single farm — an approach popular in Western states like Montana — will be aided at a lower rate of 65 percent on base acres.

The second program, Price Loss Coverage, fits the more classic countercyclical model of fixed, government-set target prices — not a rolling five-year average. PLC payments would typically be triggered later in a market downturn but then promise the farmer a more permanent floor to cover production costs.

Payments here are on 85 percent of base acres and farmers who sign up for PLC will also have available to them a new lower-cost version of revenue insurance based on countywide losses. This so-called Supplemental Coverage Option is designed to parallel ARC in that it also will have a 14 percent deductible and is intended to cover only that band of losses down to where the farmer has more conventional buy-up crop insurance coverage.

A portion of the savings from the commodity title would be plowed back into new crop insurance programs, and more than ever this portion of the bill will become the backbone of the revised farm safety net.

Cotton will make a wholesale shift, getting out of most commodity programs and into a new stacked-income insurance plan tailored to its needs. SCO itself is counted in this title. And recognizing its importance, the bill also seeks to use crop insurance as a lever to promote sounder land use practices by farmers.

New conservation compliance provisions will be attached as a condition for getting the subsidized coverage. And a “sod saver” program in six Midwest states would greatly reduce the level of subsidies afforded farmers who choose to plow up native prairie lands.

Highlights:

    • Cost of the Agricultural Act of 2014: $956.4 billion.
    • According to the CBO, it’s expected to reduce federal spending by $16.6 billion over the next decade.
    • Payment limitations across programs: $125,000 per farmer, doubled for married couples. Pushed by Thad Cochran, R-Miss. “Stabenow said she endorsed that approach because it will allow farmers to make the most use of the programs that work best for them, rather than worry about payment limits on specific programs.”
    • The bill increases funding for commodity distribution programs that go to food banks.
    • Merges 23 conservation programs into 13 for a projected savings of $6 billion.
    • Cuts $8 billion from SNAP
    • Allows for studying industrial hemp in states the permit it.
    • Defines ‘farm raised fish’: “…any aquatic species that is propagated and reared in a controlled environment.”
    • Makes provision to increase purchase of kosher and halal foods by the USDA’s emergency food assistance program that serves food banks and shelters.

What didn’t make it:

  • A repeal of country-of-origin labeling for red meat
  • An amendment by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, to forbid states from banning the sale of food products from other states due to objections over production methods, both Lucas and Stabenow said including either measure would have blown up the bill.
  • Repealed: Red Meat Safety Research Center

Who’s happy. Who’s sad.
Chris Clayton notes:

(National Cattlemen’s Beef Association) President Scott George said Tuesday his group was willing to bring down the bill over COOL even though the bill would provide aid to livestock producers who have experienced disasters.

Disaster aid, George said, is a “Band-Aid” compared with trade retaliation. But he added that if the bill is defeated, NCBA will continue to work for disaster aid.

NCBA was joined in opposition by Heritage Action, an arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, which came out Tuesday opposing the farm bill as well. Heritage criticized the inclusion of food programs in the legislation again, citing that 80% of the total spending in the bill is tied to nutrition programs.

Heritage also explains that while some bad subsidies and program were removed, lawmakers replaced them with even riskier taxpayer-funded programs. The inclusion of the Senate’s Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program is of deep concern. An initial CBO score suggested the average cost of about $2.9 billion per year, but an analysis by the American Enterprise Institute found the program “could cost as much as $7 billion annually based on the 15-year historical average price.”

. . . Support even came from groups such as the Union of Concerned Scientists

“The bill includes reforms that could sow the seeds for a sustainable food and agriculture system,” said Daniel Brito, senior Washington representative for UCS’s Food & Environment Program. “Programs that incentivize increasing access to healthy foods, developing regional food systems, and promoting sustainable agricultural practices are included and funded at higher levels. But these programs should be the core of this legislation instead of on the periphery.

. . . The American Farm Bureau Federation called on lawmakers to quickly pass the bill in a statement by AFBF President Bob Stallman. “The American Farm Bureau Federation urges House and Senate members to pass H.R. 2642, the 2014 Farm Bill. …

“… We are particularly pleased with provisions to provide risk management to fruit and vegetable farmers and to support livestock farmers during disasters.”

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson also urged lawmakers to quickly pass the legislation in a letter outlining NFU priorities in the final language.

“NFU is pleased with the conference report for a variety of reasons,” said Johnson. “The bill includes fixed reference prices to provide assistance to farmers only when truly necessary. It provides a strong crop insurance title and approximately $4 billion in livestock disaster assistance. The bill increases funding for the Farmers Market and Local Foods Promotion Program and related initiatives. We are also encouraged by the inclusion of robust mandatory funding levels for renewable energy programs. We’re also very happy that the bill preserves the ability of American family farmers and ranchers to distinguish their products in the marketplace through the existing Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) law.”

. . . National Association of Wheat Growers President Bing Von Bergen, a Montana farmer, said NAWG supports the conference committee bill “that strengthens crop insurance and allows growers the necessary safety net to keep a secure, affordable and healthy food supply. In addition, this bill provides funding for important programs in conservation, research and trade that help keep America’s wheat industry productive and competitive on a global scale.”

The National Cotton Council announced its support for the bill, praising lawmakers for providing cotton producers with transition Direct Payments for the next two years. While some criticized commodity payments and income restrictions as too loose, NCC Chairman Jimmy Dodson expressed concern about adjusted gross income language and the possibility that the Secretary of Agriculture could tighten rules on being actively engaged.

Mark Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy and Martin Barbre, president of the National Corn Growers Association write in a joint editorial in The Hill:

The new farm bill has several important provisions to advance effective conservation, respecting the vital role that farmers, ranchers and forest owners play in conserving our nation’s soil, water and wildlife. For example, conservation groups and farm organizations came together to support linking conservation compliance with crop insurance to encourage farmers to preserve native grassland and other environmentally sensitive land.

This was done while cutting billions of dollars from the conservation and forestry titles of the bill overall. Even with those cuts, the bill increases budgets for large-impact investments, such as conservation easements and smart targeting through partnership programs.

Farmers, ranchers and other private landowners in America depend upon these farm bill programs to help them provide a safe and abundant food supply while at the same time protecting and restoring wetlands and grasslands, improving water quality, increasing flood control and providing wildlife habitat.

Sources:
Bets on Farm Bill Victory: Lucas, Stabenow Predict Farm Bill Will Pass Congress, President
Jerry Hagstrom | Progressive Farmer | 28 January 2013

New farm bill readied for debate
David Rogers | Politico | 26 January 2014

More Commentary on the Farm Bill
Chris Clayton | Progressive Farmer | 28 January 2014

The Agricultural Act of 2014, aka the Farm Bill
Chris Clayton | Progressive Farmer | 27 January 2014

Hemp, farm-raised fish, food labels and food stamps: What’s in the farm bill?
Ed O’Keefe | The Fix | The Washington Post | 29 January 2014

Farm Bill gets it right on conservation
Mark R. Tercek and Martin Barbre | The Hill | 28 January 2014

Farm Bill Conferees Struggle with Dairy Compromise
Jerry Hagstrom | Progressive Farmer | 13 January 2014

Playing Chicken With the Farm Bill
Twilight Greenaway | Takeapart | 2 August 2014

FINAL VOTE RESULTS FOR ROLL CALL 31
HR 2642 | YEA-AND-NAY
Clerk of the House | 29 January 2014

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About Marc Brazeau

Free lance cultural attaché. Writing at REALFOOD.ORG.

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