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Published July 09, 2012, 09:58 AM

House Ag Committee releases its farm bill

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., on July 5 introduced a farm bill proposal that garnered predictable reactions from farm and nutrition groups.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., on July 5 introduced a farm bill proposal that garnered predictable reactions from farm and nutrition groups.

The bill would reduce food stamps more than the Senate-passed bill and include a target price program not in the Senate bill.

The bill would achieve $35 billion in budget savings over 10 years — compared with the $23.6 billion in savings in the Senate bill — by cutting $16 million more from the food stamp program. It gives farmers a choice between the “shallow loss” revenue coverage in the Senate bill and price loss coverage triggered by target prices as much as 40 percent higher than those under the 2008 farm bill. The proposal stays within the budget by reducing the benefits under the Senate revenue proposal.

In a joint news release, Lucas and Peterson say their Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act “saves taxpayers billions, reduces the nation’s deficit and repeals outdated policies while reforming, streamlining, and consolidating others.”

“I’m pleased to release this bipartisan legislation with my friend and colleague Collin Peterson,” Lucas says. “Our efforts over the past two years have resulted in reform-minded, fiscally responsible policy that is equitable for farmers and ranchers in all regions and will lead to improved program delivery.”

Peterson emphasizes his view that Congress needs to complete work on the 2012 farm bill before the current bill expires on Sept. 30.

Mixed reactions

Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union president, says his group is pleased the bill is moving forward and that the discussion draft contains provisions to address a long-term market collapse, but is concerned about the food stamp cut and the energy title.

“The $35 billion in cuts are deeply disproportionate and far larger than agriculture should have to bear, given its share of the federal budget,” Johnson writes. “The nutrition title in particular takes a big hit. In these economically difficult times, millions of Americans depend on nutrition programs to put food on the table, and now is simply not the time to be making deep cuts to these programs.” He adds that NFU is pleased the bill reauthorizes the energy title, but concerned that it contains no mandatory funding for it.

The American Sugar Alliance, which represents cane and beet growers, praises the bill for continuing the current sugar program, which it notes is operated at no cost to taxpayers. The group acknowledges that Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., is expected to introduce an amendment to make changes to the program. “Multinational food manufacturers in search of cheap ingredients and even higher profits are lobbying to have an amendment introduced during mark-up to gut no-cost sugar policy, ship U.S. sugar jobs overseas and leave America largely dependent on subsidized foreign suppliers,” says Luther Markwart, ASA president.

Markwart says he is confident those efforts will fail, noting that two sugar amendments brought up on the Senate floor failed and that an amendment to change sugar policy during a House Appropriations Committee mark-up was rejected by a 2-1 margin. But the Coalition for Sugar Reform, which represents industrial sweetener users, has pointed out that the Senate floor votes were closer than in recent years.

The National Corn Growers Association, which strongly backs the Senate commodity title, says it is pleased the House Agriculture Committee is moving forward, but did not comment on the content of the bill. “Our board is assessing similarities and differences between the legislation and our grower-developed policy. NCGA continues to call on Congress to pass a new farm bill this year,” the group says.

The Farm Bureau met July 6 to discuss the measure.

The Southwest Council of Agribusiness, which includes 17 farm organizations, 32 lenders and 71 businesses in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas, issued an enthusiastic endorsement of the bill. The council, based in Lubbock, Texas, is represented in Washington by Combest-Sell, the consulting firm headed by former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest, R-Texas, and his top aide, Tom Sell.

Dee Vaughn, Southwest Council president, wrote a letter to Lucas and Peterson, expressing strong support for the bill. “Because they work to meet the risk management needs of all producers, crops and regions, the two options offered to producers show respect for the diversity of the private sector and strive to achieve the fundamental purpose of a commodity title, which is to address prolonged periods of low prices, the one risk that crop insurance is not designed to cover.” He says the legislation works to minimize any interaction with or duplication of federal crop insurance and would give producers concerned about multiple-year price declines the option of a program that would protect them against it.

“While we oppose arbitrary means testing and pay limits, we believe the reduced adjusted groos income level and the pay limits contained in the House farm bill should be workable and we certainly appreciate the bill not reopening actively engaged rules that allow farm families to share risk,” Vaughn says. “The committee also rightly rejected the extremely bad ideas of tying AGI rules and pay limits to crop insurance and adding duplicative regulations on farmers by linking crop insurance to conservation compliance. The AGI and payment limit amendments offered in the Senate especially illustrate the alarming disconnect between Washington’s concept of America’s family farms and American family farms as they actually exist today.”

Vaughn also says the group appreciates the inclusion of the crop insurance supplemental coverage option first proposed by Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, and the bill’s efforts “to undo some of the damage caused by the last standard reinsurance agreement and prevent further damage under future agreements.”

The council also endorses the sugar, dairy and cotton titles of the bill.

The National Cotton Council praises the bill and urges the House Agriculture Committee to pass it as introduced.

“While we continue to oppose limitations on benefits and income eligibility tests, regrettably such restrictions are an inevitable feature of farm legislation,” says Chuck Coley, NCC chairman. “We are encouraged that the committee leaders are extending current policy of not placing limits on marketing loan benefits or any restrictions on the availability of insurance products.”

Oxfam, an international charity, says the bill “continues the tradition of pork-laden corporate boondoggles substituting for sensible agriculture policy,” emphasizing its disappointment that the bill does not include changes to international food aid programs that are included in the Senate bill. “As more than 18 million people face a hunger crisis in West Africa and hundreds of millions more people struggle to get enough to eat, Congress should step up with legislation that is in the interest of hungry people at home and abroad,” Oxfam says.

The Environmental Working Group says it is disappointed that the draft would “expand unlimited crop insurance subsidies and create new budget-busting farm revenue and price guarantees” while cutting nutrition and conservation programs. “The committee’s leaders have proposed to plow much of the savings generated from the elimination of direct payments into new entitlements for the largest and most successful farm businesses,” EWG says. “We urge Congress to reject these proposed cuts to anti-hunger and conservation programs, to oppose new farm revenue and price guarantees, and to instead support reasonable reforms to unlimited crop insurance subsidies and efforts to promote healthier diets.”

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