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Senate Begins Work on Farm Bill

Gary Niemeyer, President of the NCGA,

The U.S. Senate cleared a procedural hurdle Thursday and voted to proceed to consideration of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 (the Farm Bill). Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, and Senator Pat Roberts, the Committee’s Ranking Member, co-authored the bill that saves taxpayers $23 billion and helps America’s agriculture economy continue to grow. Stabenow and Roberts will together manage consideration of the Bill on the Senate floor.


The Senate’s bill represents significant reform of American agriculture policy by ending four different commodity subsidy programs (direct payments, counter-cyclical payments, the SURE program and the ACRE program). The commodity title of the bill calls for a safety net that relies primarily on crop insurance, but also provides a payout when yields or prices move sharply lower.  Gary Niemeyer, President of the NCGA, says the plan is a good one for corn and soybean farmers, “Crop insurance is a top priory for all farmers but it does not cover what happens from year to year.”  Southern rice and peanut farmers have strongly opposed this approach but Niemeyer says a detailed analysis of the program shows they could not be hurt, “I think their concern has a lot to do with not knowing, you are just not comfortable with something you are not used to using.”  In a statement released on Thursday, Niemeyer said, “The 2012 Farm Bill creates the reforms needed to not only reduce the federal deficit but ensure a positive beginning for the next generation of America’s farmers.”


The White House on Thursday released a statement supporting passage of the Senate Farm Bill, “The Administration supports Senate passage of the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012, and looks forward to working with the Congress to address the important concerns described below prior to final passage.” Those concerns include proposed cuts in the SNAP program and additional reduction in funds for crop insurance.  A large number of amendments are expected during Senate floor debate many having nothing to do with agriculture. Senate Armed Services top Republican John McCain has offered an amendment to the Farm Bill to minimize automatic defense cuts set for January first. Senate debate is expected to last 2 to 3 weeks.


Most major farm groups are pleased with the Senate bill and optimistic final passage will occur this month.  Thursday’s action “greatly increases the chances that we can get our dairy reform proposal through the Senate, as well as the House, and passed into law this year,” said Jerry Kozak, President and CEO of National Milk Producers Federation.  The Senate legislation includes a new, voluntary margin protection program, endorsed by NMPF, to better safeguard farmers against disastrously low margins, such as those generated by the low milk prices and high feed costs. Kozak said the dairy title contains a better safety net for farmers in the form of the Dairy Production Margin Protection Program, which offers them a basic level of coverage against low margins, as well as a supplemental insurance plan offering higher levels of protection jointly funded by government and farmers.


For more information, and a summary of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, please visit the Senate Agriculture Committee’s website at https://www.ag.senate.gov/issues/farm-bill.

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