End Is Finally Near For Farm Bill

DC Dialogue

Senate prepares for final farm bill vote on Tuesday concluding multiple-year effort to reform farm programs.

Published on: January 31, 2014

After two and a half years of working on the farm bill, House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) called the final conference package "not only a good farm bill, almost a miraculous farm bill." The end finally is in the sights of legislators and the agricultural community with the House’s decisive bipartisan vote of 251-166 Wednesday.

The 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 vote succeeds. Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) praised the passage. “The Senate has twice passed the farm bill with overwhelming bipartisan support. I have no doubt we’ll do it again,” she said in a statement.

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

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

Most of the Democrat dissenters were due to the proposed $8.6 billion in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cuts. The anti-hunger coalition was not solely against the bill 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., Calif.) and also heads up the Black Caucus.

Final deal

The farm bill repeals the long-standing direct payment program and places a greater emphasis on crop insurance risk management tools. (Here’s a great resource for a brief overview of the commodity title changes from Carl Zulauf, ag economist at Ohio State University.)

The new farm bill will offer producers a choice between two commodity income support programs. The first offers price-loss assistance, while the second is 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 final package reduces the Conservation Reserve Program acreage ceiling from 32 million acres 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 addition, the final bill includes the penalty free early-out provision that allows landowners and operators the ability to terminate their CRP contracts in fiscal year 2015 if the land has been in CRP for at least five years and the land is not in one of the classes of land expressly listed as ineligible for early termination.

After final language was released earlier in the week, meat industry groups including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and National Pork Producers Council came out opposing the bill because it did not limit funding for the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Act (GIPSA) and didn’t repeal the mandatory country-of-origin labeling law. Although not included in the final farm bill, legislators who supported the groups said they’ll continue to look for ways to provide a fix.

The bill also did not include the King amendment which would help protect interstate commerce of agricultural products nor 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 changes required to dairy policy. The bill offers a new voluntary, margin protection program but without any government-mandated supply controls and was able to gain the support of the National Milk Producers Federation and the International Dairy Foods Association which have been at odds throughout the farm bill debate.

The conference report gives greater subsidized margin insurance to small dairy farmers and decreases some of subsides 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 in 2009.

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