House finally clears farm bill

House finally clears farm bill

Senate prepares for final farm bill vote on Tuesday, concluding multiyear effort to reform farm programs.

AFTER more than two years of working on a new farm bill, the end finally is in the sights of legislators and the agricultural community after the House's decisive, bipartisan vote of 251-166 on Jan. 29.

The House passage sends the bill to the Senate, where approval is not expected to hit any roadblocks. The chamber has planned a cloture vote on Monday, with a final vote on Tuesday if the cloture vote succeeds.

Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) praised the passage, saying in a statement, "The Senate has twice passed the farm bill with overwhelming bipartisan support. I have no doubt we'll do it again."

The President has also indicated that he will sign the bill once it reaches the White House.

As House Agriculture Committee chair Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) projected, the bill was able to achieve final approval with the help of the middle, similar to what past farm bills have accomplished. A total of 162 Republicans and 89 Democrats voted in favor of the bill.

Most of the Democrats who dissented did so because of the proposed $8.6 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The anti-hunger coalition was not solely against the bill, as shown by the vote in favor of the bill from Rep. Marcia Fudge (D., Ohio), who sat on the conference committee on behalf of House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Cal.) and also heads up the Black Caucus.

 

Final deal

After final language was released earlier in the week, meat industry groups, including the National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. and the National Pork Producers Council, came out in opposition to the bill because it did not limit funding for the Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration rule and didn't repeal the mandatory country-of-origin labeling law.

Although not included in the final farm bill, legislators who supported the meat groups said they'll continue to look for ways to provide a fix.

The bill did not include the King amendment, which would help protect interstate commerce of agricultural products, or the egg bill, which would have codified an agreement between the United Egg Producers and The Humane Society of the United States.

One of the most complicated issues, in the end, was dairy policy. The bill offers a new voluntary margin protection program without any government-mandated supply controls that was able to gain the support of the National Milk Producers Federation and the International Dairy Foods Assn., which have been at odds throughout the farm bill debate.

The bill retains all of the significant areas of agreement between the House and Senate dairy titles with a voluntary margin protection program. The conference report gives greater subsidized margin insurance to small dairy farmers and decreases some of the subsidies offered to the largest dairy farms. The conference report authorizes a new Dairy Product Donation Program that allows the U.S. Department of Agriculture to buy dairy products for immediate donation when U.S. dairy markets are catastrophically low, as they were in 2009.

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.), who was a champion of including the supply controls, said the final dairy program offers a much more sensible approach that also will provide market signals to deal with overproduction. He added that the only question he has is whether those signals will be strong enough.

The farm bill repeals the long-standing direct payment program and places a greater emphasis on crop insurance risk management tools.

The new farm bill gives producers a choice between two commodity income support programs. The first offers price-loss assistance, while the second takes a revenue-loss assistance approach. For the 2014-18 crop years, producers will be given the opportunity to make a one-time, irrevocable decision between the two programs.

The National Grain & Feed Assn. (NGFA) said it consistently and frequently urged members of Congress to reduce the overall acreage cap in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and provide a penalty-free early-out provision so landowners and operators can terminate their existing CRP contracts to respond to market conditions and allow productive farmland to exit the program, both of which are in the final bill.

The final package reduces the CRP acreage ceiling from 32 million to 24 million acres. The acreage cap will be implemented in a stair-stepped approach over the farm bill's five-year span, with the cap lowered each year until the final two years, when the cap settles at 24 million acres — in line with NGFA's recommendation to expedite the drawdown.

The penalty-free early-out provision allows landowners and operators to terminate their CRP contracts in fiscal 2015 if the land has been in CRP for at least five years and is not in one of the classes of land expressly listed as ineligible for early termination.

The new farm bill fully funds the USDA Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development program, which represent important investments in U.S. agricultural exports.

Philip Seng, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), noted that many agricultural organizations had been educating legislators on the importance of these programs.

The farm bill also directs USDA to develop a reorganization plan that includes a new undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs — a provision strongly supported by USMEF.

 

Summary of the effects on direct spending from conference agreement on H.R. 2642, Jan. 28 CBO cost estimate

 

-Changes in direct spending (outlays)-

 

May 2013 CBO

CBO estimate

H.R. 2642 conf.

H.R. 2642 conf. agrmt.

 

baseline (2014-23)

of sequester

agreement

including sequester

Title I: Commodities

58,765

-4,080

-14,307

-18,387

Title II: Conservation

61,567

-2,088

-3,967

-6,055

Title III: Trade

3,435

-169

139

-30

Title IV: Nutrition

764,432

-8,000

-8,000

Title V: Credit

-2,240

0

0

Title VI: Rural development

13

228

228

Title VII: Research

111

1,145

1,145

Title VIII: Forestry

3

10

10

Title IX: Energy

243

879

879

Title X: Horticulture

1,061

-31

694

663

Title XI: Crop insurance

84,105

5,722

5,722

Title XII: Miscellaneous

1,410

953

953

Total

972,905

-6,368

-16,608

-22,976

Note: Totals include estimated revenues from Titles X and XII.

Source: Congressional Budget Office.

 

Volume:86 Issue:05

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