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Senate Farm Bill Debate Ready to Begin

Senator Debbie Stabenow

The Senate’s new version of the Farm Bill will see action the Senate floor this month, perhaps as early as this week.  Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow told reporters on Monday that Senate leadership is ready to bring the Bill to the floor for quick action, “Because this is at heart a jobs bill, 16 million Americans are in some way dependent on agriculture for their job.”  She said the prosperity that the farm economy has enjoyed the past few years must continue.


The key feature of the legislation is the elimination of direct payments to producers. Stabenow said the era of direct payments to farmers is over, “We are no longer going to pay farmers for what they do not grow or when they are doing well.”  The Bill adopts what is called a shallow loss approach that makes small payments to growers when they have small losses. Stabenow favors this approach because she said it will help farm families adjust to changes in the market place, “It will help when there is a loss from the weather or the marketplace.” She said using a 5 year Olympic average will avoid economic shocks to farmers and allow them to transition and adjust to changes.  She added it will also  help avoid food price spikes for consumers. Southern rice and peanut growers are opposed to this approach, but Stabenow said analysis shows that these growers would benefit more under this plan than under the current direct payment approach.


Economic analysis provides differing opinions on the Senate approach.  A new report from the Food and Agriculture Policy Research Institute shows how a key farm bill program being considered by Congress treats crops like corn, soybeans, rice, wheat and peanuts equitably. “When you talk about farm bill equity, it is important to consider the market value of each of the covered crops,” said NCGA President Garry Niemeyer. “This research shows how well senators on the agriculture committee have done in maintaining balance and equity while drafting a very complex piece of legislation.”  A study released by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) says, if adopted, the program could end up costing taxpayers more than direct payments. The study claims shallow loss programs “are potentially expensive for taxpayers and especially costly in an environment in which grain and oilseed prices are declining from recent levels, as seems likely to be the case.”


Other battlegrounds are likely to be linking crop insurance to conservation practices and proposed cuts in the food assistance programs.


Stabenow is expecting two or three weeks to get the Bill passed by the Senate. She is optimistic most of the programs will emerge unchanged in the final Bill.  She added that the House is taking a much different approach and that difference will be worked out in a conference committee.   The unanswered question is if all this can happen in an election year.


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