The Senate Agriculture Committee passed a new version of the Farm Bill on Tuesday. The mark up did not go as quickly or as smoothly as it did last summer when the committee first took up a new Farm Bill. Most of the titles sailed through without dissent, but considerable debate surrounded the nutrition programs and the commodity title. Overall, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 will yield a total of over $23 billion dollars in spending cuts by eliminating subsidies, consolidating programs to end duplication, and combating misuse and fraud in food assistance programs. The measure will now go to the full Senate for consideration. This could happen as quickly as next week.
The Bill makes significant cuts in the SNAP program, and Democrats proposed an amendment to restore funding. “Tightening our belts around the waists of our children is not a shared American value,” said Senator Kristen Gillibrand of New York. While the amendment was not adopted by the committee, the issue of cuts in food and nutrition programs, which account for 80% of the Farm Bill’s price tag, is expected to be a major point of debate when the Farm Bill reaches the Senate floor.
Unlike the Senate Farm Bill that passed last year, the commodity title this time around included target prices. These were placed in the bill to satisfy peanut and rice growers in Southern states. Kansas Senator Pat Roberts blasted the concept, calling it a step backward in farm policy, “Why should these two commodities be allowed to dictate that all others should have to have target prices when we don’t want them.” Senator Thune of South Dakota offered an amendment to remove target prices from the commodity title; it was rejected by the committee. Another attempt to remove target prices for all commodities except rice and peanuts was also rejected. Committee Chairman Stabenow said the commodity title, as written, is fair to all producers, “We have a balance that strikes the right set of issues.”
In the end, the bill passed out of committee 15 to 5 with Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly voting with the majority. In a statement following the mark up, he urged Congress to pass a new Farm Bill this time around, “Indiana farmers deserve more than the partisan gridlock that prevented a five-year farm bill from passing last year.” Donnelly said the Bill contains many programs important to Indiana farmers, “While no bill is perfect, there are a few areas of this bill I worked to improve based on feedback from Hoosiers. First, I worked to maintain full planting flexibility for Hoosier farmers wanting to grow fruits and vegetables on their farms.”
Donnelly introduced an amendment to give the next generation of bioenergy crops access to base levels of risk management so that a logical safety net will be in place for producers. Donnelly also introduced an amendment with Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) to address the increasing use of crops for biofuels. This bipartisan amendment would amend the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program to offer coverage for crops producing feedstock for energy purposes.