FOUR attempts have been made to reopen the 2014 farm bill this year. One — crop insurance cuts — will be erased with the highway bill reauthorization deal, but three others remain pending as the omnibus appropriations bill awaits being filed sometime early the week of Dec. 7.
The budget deal passed last month contained $3 billion in cuts to the crop insurance program, but promises were made to fix the cuts in a bill later this year. The negotiated text of the long-term highway bill included language to restore the crop insurance program funding, gaining praise from agricultural interests.
House and Senate agriculture committee leaders were united and unwavering in their opposition to the proposed cuts and had secured promises from congressional leadership that the farm bill would not be reopened.
"I appreciate the dedication to America's farmers shown by our leadership in ensuring crop insurance remains the number-one tool in our producers' risk management toolbox," Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) said.
The underlying House agriculture appropriations bill reopens the conservation title of the 2014 farm bill and cuts mandatory spending for working lands conservation by more than $600 million for fiscal 2016. That bill also reopens the commodity title in an attempt to allow a handful of the largest cotton farms in the country to evade the farm bill's payment limitations and delays the application of conservation requirements to receipt of crop insurance premium subsidies by a year.
In a floor speech, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) explained the importance of not reopening the farm bill in the omnibus spending bill.
Section 739 of the House agriculture appropriations bill reauthorized commodity certificates, which Grassley called a way around payment limits. He said the bill's language specifically directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to "administer commodity certificates as they were in 2008, when they were not subject to any payment limits at all."
Omnibus bills can push through many provisions that wouldn't be approved in regular circumstances. "If the agriculture community wants to be taken seriously, we should heed our own advice and not reopen the farm bill by reauthorizing commodity certificates," Grassley, a longtime champion of payment limits, said.
The underlying Senate agriculture appropriations bill does not reopen the payment limits or conservation compliance issues, but it does reopen the conservation title to cut nearly $400 million from working lands conservation programs for this fiscal year.