The House Ag Committee passed its version of the Farm Bill last week; but the legislation, vital to American agriculture, faces an uncertain future. Mary Kay Thatcher, American Farm Bureau Federation’s Farm Policy Specialist, says key differences between the House bill and the one passed by the Senate last month may make it difficult for the House version to move forward, “There are 12 titles to the farm bill and for the most part the titles dealing with things like conservation, research, rural development, livestock, specialty crops – those are very, very similar. The real differences are in the commodity title and the nutrition title. In nutrition, the House side cut four times more money than the Senate side. In the commodity title, you have the major change being that the Senate offered an option where a producer could pick a shallow loss revenue type program based on county averages or individual farm yield averages, where on the House side they said pick between target prices and a county level revenue program.”
While the focus of the House floor debate will likely be over the nutrition programs, farm groups are divided on the commodity title of the House legislation. AFBF President Bob Stallman stated, “For more than a year, we have been advocating farm policy that protects and strengthens risk management programs for all farmers. This legislation maintains proven program features such as the marketing loan provision and strengthens the crop insurance program while setting a clear example of fiscal responsibility with significant but fair reductions in agriculture spending over the next decade.” But National Corn Growers Association President Garry Niemeyer said in a statement, “The National Corn Growers Association is disappointed the House Agriculture Committee’s passed version of the 2012 farm bill does not include a more viable market-oriented risk management program. We feel there needs to be significant changes made to the legislation.”
One thing that all farm groups do agree on, however, is that Congress needs to take action on the legislation quickly. Thatcher says the worsening drought conditions in the Midwest may help put pressure on Congress to keep the legislation moving forward, “I think right now, with the drought situation that’s happening in the country, that members of Congress are seeing when they go home the problems; and, hopefully, they’re understanding that we have to pass this bill because we need a strong crop insurance program and we need those livestock disaster programs to be retroactive in 2012. So hopefully we can push this bill along.” Niemeyer urged House leaders to follow the example of the Senate and put the bill on the floor during July, “We support moving the legislative process forward and urge Speaker Boehner to schedule time for full House floor consideration before the August recess.”
House leadership isn’t making any promises on floor time for the farm bill. According to House Speaker John Boehner there are some good reforms in the farm bill – and there are other parts he has concerns about. According to Boehner – we have a Soviet-style dairy program in the country today – and one of the proposals in the farm bill actually makes it worse. The Speaker is reserving further comments on the legislation approved by the House Ag Committee until he gets a closer look. Majority Leader Eric Cantor didn’t even discuss floor time following committee passage.
Thatcher is not optimistic that House Farm Bill action will be possible, “Our best option is probably to have some kind of a conference committee between what the House Ag Committee approved yesterday and what the Senate approved and hope to find a vehicle that’s moving. Possibly one of the tax extenders that’s expiring in December and the lame duck session tying this to that using some of the cost savings presumably somewhere between the 23 and the 35 billion dollars that is being saved and trying to use that to offset the cost of extending a tax provision and to get the farm bill done.” Stallman said farmers are not going to receive all the provisions they had hoped for in this bill, but he commended, “The bipartisan efforts that went into providing farmers and ranchers the risk management, marketing, conservation and trade tools necessary to ensure a solid, predictable agricultural economy over the next few years.”