Stabenow, Roberts release farm bill proposal

WASHINGTON -- Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, recently released a farm bill proposal and announced that the committee will begin consideration of the bill on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON -- Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, recently released a farm bill proposal and announced that the committee will begin consideration of the bill on Wednesday.

Senate Agriculture Committee staff briefed lobbyists April 20 but neither the staff nor the lobbyists spoke to the press.

Senate aides, who do not work for the committee, said that the bill:

• Cuts farm program spending by a total of $25 billion over 10 years, divided as $15 billion from farm programs, $6 billion from conservation and $4 billion from nutrition, with $2 billion of the savings used for purposes such as extending the specialty crop grant program and beginning farmer education.

• Eliminates not only direct payments, but the average crop revenue election program known as ACRE, the permanent disaster program known as SURE, and target prices as a trigger for payments.


• Creates a new Ag Risk Coverage program known as ARC that allows crop farmers to choose whether to use a county or individual trigger for payments, with lower payments if the farmer chooses the individual trigger, but with a payment limit for either program of $50,000.

• Places the cotton program known as STAX in the crop insurance title.

• Includes a peanut revenue program in the crop insurance title, but no special program for rice.

• Consolidates the adjusted gross income for farm program eligibility so that individuals with an income $900,000 per individual in farm and nonfarm income are ineligible for farm program payments.

• Extends the current sugar program to 2017.

• Scales back the size of the Conservation Reserve Program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Security Program and groups other conservation programs.

• Continues the specialty crop block grant program.

• Says that payments under the Low Income Heating and Energy Program can help qualify people for supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP, also known as food stamps) only if the payments are $10 per month or higher.


• Narrows the definition of education programs under which people can qualify for SNAP.

• Forbids distribution of SNAP payments to lottery winners.

The bill contains the major elements of the Dairy Security Act introduced in the House by House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Rep Mike Simpson, R-Idaho. These measures were included in the farm bill proposed in the Senate by Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., a former chairman of the Agriculture committee.

The National Milk Producers Federation issued a statement today praising the committee for including the provision but the International Dairy Foods Association, which represents processors, announced that its executives would come to Washington this week to lobby against what they consider to be supply management.

The Minnesota Milk Producers Association board of directors voted to oppose the dairy provisions contained in the draft 2012 farm bill because they think the bill does not adequately address the challenges facing Minnesota's dairy farmers.

"Since Friday (April 20), our leadership has had discussions with our membership and captured input from experts," says Pat Lunemann, MMPA president. "While we do appreciate the work Chairwoman Stabenow has done to this point, changes are still warranted."

The proposed legislation must remove all language referring to "milk stabilization," according to a MMPA press release issued today. "MMPA's first priority is the long-term success of Minnesota dairy farmers. One major component of achieving this priority is to ensure that our dairy farmers have a solid infrastructure. Analysis of the current Senate language would force Minnesota dairy farmers to cut up to 6 percent of milk production -- today. Cutting back on production at a time when our Minnesota processing plants need more locally produced milk is a step in the wrong direction," the press release says.

"Second, while we applaud the inclusion of a margin insurance program for dairy in the proposed farm bill, it is not actuarially sound at the higher coverage levels. The premiums for higher levels of coverage must be adjusted. The premiums are currently structured in a manner that creates extra incentives for certain producers to keep producing more milk in order to receive hefty margins via insurance payments from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


"Third, dairy farmers deserve promised market reform. There is little in terms of market reform in the proposed legislative language. The U.S. dairy industry must move toward a two-tiered pricing system and it must move toward a competitive pay price. Also, there is no language that would put California under the Federal Milk Market Order system."

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a statement praising Stabenow and Roberts "for working together in a bipartisan fashion to write a farm, food and jobs bill this year. Farmers, ranchers and the men and women who live in rural communities deserve to know what the rules will be moving forward. With the current law expiring, we cannot wait any longer to reauthorize this essential law for rural America."

Vilsack said he still needs to review the bill, but "I am optimistic that members of Congress will work to pass legislation that will support farmers, guarantee a safe, affordable and nutritious food supply, support nutrition programs that help millions of families put food on the table and help create jobs for the American people.

While most farm groups were still analyzing the bill, the American Soybean Association praised Stabenow and Roberts for writing a bipartisan bill, and urged the committee to finish markup as quickly as possible so that the bill can be passed this year.

"We are very pleased to see that the proposal includes a revenue-based risk management program that will complement the federal crop insurance program. We also applaud leadership's decision not to cut crop insurance funding to achieve the committee's deficit reduction objectives," the group said in a news release.

Feeding America, the network of food banks, said it was disappointed by the decision to make cuts in SNAP, and that the additional $100 million over 10 years that the committee provided for The Emergency Food Assistance Program or TEFAP, a commodity distribution program, was too small.

"Charity, already stretched to the limit serving huge increases in need during the recession, will not have the capacity to make up for billions of dollars in lost SNAP benefits. Our food banks need more TEFAP, not increased demand," the group said.

The National Association of Conservation Districts also praised the bill, saying that the group has accepted the need to cut $6 billion in conservation spending.


"We fully recognize the need to get our nation's financial house in order, and we understand that means cuts to farm bill programs," said NACD President Gene Schmidt. "We're extremely pleased that committee leadership has come up with a strong, balanced plan that fairly recognizes the critical value of locally led conservation at the landscape scale."

Although the elimination of the direct payments program would achieve a long-time goal of the Environmental Working Group, that organization said in a news release that the bill "does more harm than good."

EWG said the bill "needlessly sacrifices conservation and feeding assistance programs to finance unlimited insurance subsidies and a new entitlement program for highly profitable farm businesses."

EWG also said it "is disappointed that the committee failed to address the impact of fence-row to fence-row agricultural production, which is putting unprecedented pressure on our land, water and wildlife."

"Although the committee extended conservation compliance to the revenue guarantee program, we are disappointed that the committee failed to require that farmers protect wetlands, grasslands and soil health in exchange for insurance subsidies," the EWG said.

EWG applauded provisions that create and expand programs that support healthy diets and organic farmers, as well as expanding links between local farmers and consumers and said, "But for the leadership of Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., this proposal would have been far worse."

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