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Senate Ag Committee Release 2012 Farm Bill Draft

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Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow and Ranking Member Pat Roberts released their co-authored mark for the 2012 Farm Bill Friday. A summary released by Stabenow’s office says the Committee Print reforms farm policy, consolidates and streamlines programs, and will reduce the deficit by 23-billion dollars. They state the bill saves taxpayers money while strengthening initiatives that help farmers, ranchers and small business owners create jobs.

According to the Chairwoman’s summary – the proposal eliminates direct payments while strengthening risk management; consolidates and streamlines programs; improves program integrity and accountability; and grows America’s agricultural economy. Stabenow says the full committee will meet Wednesday at eight o’clock Central for purposes of considering and marking up the 2012 Farm Bill.

The full details of the Chairwoman’s summary follow:

Eliminates Direct Payments while Strengthening Risk Management

Farmers face unique risks unlike other businesses. Weather and market conditions outside a producer’s control can have devastating effects. A risk management system that helps producers stay in business through a few bad seasons ensures that Americans always have access to a safe and plentiful food supply. The proposal:

• Eliminates direct payments. Farmers will no longer be paid for crops they are not growing, will not be paid for acres that are not actually planted, and will not receive support absent a drop in price or yields.

• Consolidates two remaining farm programs into one, and will give farmers the ability to tailor risk management coverage—meaning better protection against real risks beyond a farmer’s control.

• Strengthens crop insurance and expands access so farmers are not wiped out by a few days of bad weather.

Consolidates and Streamlines Programs

By eliminating duplicative programs, funds are concentrated in the areas in which they will have the greatest impact, making them work better for producers.

• By ending duplication and consolidating programs, the bill eliminates dozens of programs under the Agriculture Committee’s jurisdiction.

• For example, the bill consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13 programs, while maintaining the existing tools farmers and landowners need to protect and conserve land, water and wildlife.

Improves Program Integrity and Accountability

At a time when many out-of-work Americans are in need for the first time in their lives, it is critical that every taxpayer dollar be spent responsibly and serves those truly struggling. By closing loopholes, tightening standards, and requiring greater transparency, the proposal increases efficiency and improves effectiveness.

• Increases accountability in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by:

• Stopping lottery winners from continuing to receive assistance.

• Ending misuse by college students.

• Cracking down on retailers and recipients engaged in benefit trafficking.

• Increasing requirements to prevent liquor and tobacco stores from becoming retailers.

• Eliminating gaps in standards that result in overpayment of benefits.

• The proposal maintains benefits for families in need.

Grows America’s Agricultural Economy

The proposal increases efficiency and accountability, saving tens of billions of dollars overall, while strengthening agricultural jobs initiatives by:

• Expanding export opportunities and helping farmers develop new markets for their goods.

• Investing in research to help commercialize new agricultural innovations.

• Growing bio-based manufacturing (businesses producing goods in America from raw agricultural products grown in America) by allowing bio-manufacturers to participate in existing U.S. Department of Agriculture loan programs, expanding the BioPreferred labeling initiative, and strengthening a procurement preference so the U.S. government will select bio-based products when purchasing needed goods.

• Spurring advancements in bio-energy production, supporting advanced biomass energy production such as cellulosic ethanol and pellets from woody biomass for power.

• Helping family farmers sell locally by increasing support for farmers’ markets and spurring the creation of food hubs to connect farmers to schools and other community-based consumers.

• Extending rural development initiatives to help rural communities upgrade infrastructure and create an environment for small businesses to grow.

Reaction to the plan began to roll in Friday afternoon. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack commended Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow and Ranking Member Pat Roberts for their bipartisan work to write a farm, food and jobs bill this year. He said farmers, ranchers and those living in rural communities deserve to know what the rules will be moving forward. Stating that USDA still needs to review all of the policies, reforms and investments proposed in the mark released Friday – Vilsack expressed optimism that Congress will work to pass legislation that will support farmers, guarantee a safe, affordable and nutritious food supply, support nutrition programs and help create jobs for the American people.

The National Association of Conservation Districts was pleased the Senate Ag Committee leaders recognized the value of conservation in supporting the nation’s long-term environmental and economic stability. NACD says the language in the Title II framework demonstrates strong bipartisan support for locally-led conservation efforts. The proposal calls for a 10-percent cut – about six-billion dollars – over 10 years to Title II Farm Bill programs. NACD President Gene Schmidt says it makes sense to invest in conservation. He says farm bill conservation programs play a key role in supporting clean air, clean water and productive soils, help producers avoid unnecessary regulation and support economic and food security. As the pressure to produce food, feed, fuel and fiber for a growing population increases – Schmidt says we can’t afford not to invest in natural resource conservation. NACD is urging the full Committee and Senate to support the conservation title recommendations as laid out in the framework.