Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed cloture on the farm bill Tuesday, setting up a vote Thursday morning at 10 a.m. EST for cloture which will close debate on the bill.
Monday the Senate returned from its Memorial Day recess and Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) said the goal is to “complete this by the end of the week.” There still is no official word on how many amendments have been agreed upon between Stabenow and her ranking member Thad Cochran (R., Miss.)
The Senate approved two amendments to the farm bill Monday. The first introduced by Sen. Jerry Moran (R., Kan.) would require a study on evaluating crop insurance for alfalfa. It passed 72-18.
He explained the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) is supportive of alfalfa insurance but is currently prohibited from working on research and development without this amendment. Moran’s amendment directing RMA to research and develop a crop insurance product that works for alfalfa will eventually allow producers to plant alfalfa and manage their risk. This will give animal agriculture less expensive inputs and allow farms to diversify their production. Additionally, consumers will be provided with a less expensive and more abundant food supply.
From 2002-2011, alfalfa acreage declined 15.7% and in 2012 alone, there was an additional decline of 10%.
Moran said the current crop insurance program, Forage Production APH, is severely inadequate; less than 10% of the acreage is enrolled in the program while enrollment for corn, soybean and wheat are all more than 80%. In addition, the program is only available in 23 states and limited counties in some of those states.
The Senate also voted by a voice vote an amendment that would slightly boost dollars to buy locally-grown food close to needy areas abroad. However, the amendment from Sen. Mike Johanns (R., Neb.) calls for $60 million (a $20 million annual increase from the original bill) for the local purchase program, but still only a fraction compared to the current $1.8 spent on food aid and much less than President Barack Obama’s overhaul of food aid proposed in his budget this year.
Wednesday by the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee plans a mark up of the FY 2014 Ag Appropriations bill. The legislation contains $1.15 billion for "Food for Peace" grants, also known as the P.L. 480 - Title II program, which is $284 million below the FY 2013 enacted level. The bill does not reflect the president's budget request to move this program to the jurisdiction of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).