Congress Begins a Farm Bill Sprint

The Senate and House Agriculture Committees debated their versions of the Farm Bill in the same week, only one day apart. This is simply unprecedented for both the Senate and the House to move a Farm Bill at the same time. It made for interesting and fast-paced work not only for us, but for those of you we alerted to add your voice to the debates.

The full Senate began debating the bill before Memorial Day recess. They will likely pick it back up, but they also have immigration reform to tackle. The House is expected to take up their version this month (June). Here is a brief recap of what is in both bills, and what we hope to see happen on the Senate floor.

Senate Ag Committee’s Farm Bill
The Senate version took a first step to close loopholes that have made a mockery of farm program payment limitations. It places a hard cap on payments and redefined what it means to be “actively engaged in farming.”

It also provides critical funding to support rural small business development, training, and mentoring for the next generation of farmers and ranchers, as well as grants for beginning and small and midsized family farmers and ranchers to develop high-value, niche markets. These are all steps in the right direction.

House Ag Committee’s Farm Bill
The House bill fails to include any meaningful reform on farm program payments. It made a huge cut to the Conservation Stewardship Program, scaling it back from the nearly 13 million acres per year enrollment to just a little over 8 million acres per year. Representative Richard Nolan (MN-8) unsuccessfully offered an amendment to restore the funding for CSP to the same level as the Senate bill.

The House bill also failed to provide funding for rural small business development, despite the efforts of Representative Mike McIntyre (NC-7), who offered an amendment that would provide such funding.

On a positive note, the House bill did include funding to support training and mentoring for the next generation of farmers and ranchers, providing more funding than the Senate bill.

Senate Debate – Needed Improvements to the Bill
As noted above, the Senate took the bill to the Senate floor immediately. There is more work to do as the bill is picked back up for further debate.

The largest farm subsidy – crop insurance premium subsidies – remain uncapped. If one corporation farmed your entire state, the federal government would pay 60 percent of its crop insurance premiums on every acre, every year – even in the best years.

Therefore, we will focus on two amendments during debate. Senators Coburn (R-OK) and Durbin (D-IL) would reduce premium subsidies by 15 percent on crop insurance for those who make over $750,000 annually ($1.5 million for married couples). This amendment passed last year when the Senate debated and passed their farm bill.

Senators Shaheen (D-NH) and Toomey (RPA) would place the same hard cap on federal crop insurance premium subsidies as what the current Senate bill applies to traditional farm program payments. This amendment would also require those who receive premium subsidies to be actively engaged in farming.

These amendments would ensure federal farm policy will stop subsidizing the largest and wealthiest farms at the expense of the small and mid-size family farmers. Stay tuned next month for a rundown on what transpires in Congress as the Farm Bill makes its historic run to a final reckoning and into law.

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