Making Serious Farm Bill Progress

Senate Ag Committee is ready to mark up a farm bill, and releases the key issues ahead of next week's hearing.

Published on: Apr 20, 2012

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chair of the Senate Ag Committee will convene a meeting of the full committee to consider and mark up the 2012 Farm Bill. The framework was worked out with Pat Roberts, R-Kan., creating a bipartisan approach. That hearing is set for Wednesday, April 25. A summary of the committee print, or working document, is at the end of this report. Groups are already weighing in on this bipartisan bill.

"I commend Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking Member Roberts for working together in a bipartisan fashion to write a farm, food and jobs bill this year," says Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. "Farmers, ranchers and the men and women who live in rural communities deserve to know what the rules will be moving forward."

SENATE ON THE MOVE: As the house finished a field hearing, Senators were pulling their version of a bill together.
SENATE ON THE MOVE: As the house finished a field hearing, Senators were pulling their version of a bill together.

This latest move is ample evidence the Congress is not really interested in providing an extension to the current bill. Significant changes will be discussed in committee before a bill goes to the floor, and there are a number of major changes. They range from the end of direct payments to a reduction in the number of conservation projects.

In reacting to the marking print, the National Association of Conservation Districts applauded Committee leaders for investing in future conservation. The proposal calls for a 10% cut, or $6 billion over the next 10 years, to Title II Farm Bill programs.

"We fully recognize the need to get our nation's financial house in order, and we understand that means cuts to Farm Bill programs," says Gene Schmidt, NACD president, in a prepared statement. "We're extremely pleased that committee leadership has come up with a strong, balanced plan that fairly recognizes the critical value of locally led conservation at the landscape scale."

The Senate measure is aiming for the $23 billion in cuts that were originally proposed by what some term as the "gang of 12" late in 2011. Although that cuts failed to pass, they live on in some form in this new farm bill starting point.

Steve Wellman, a Syracuse, Neb. farmer, and president of the American Soybean Association applauded Committee leadership for the work done, and encouraged the committee to "complete mark-up as quickly as possible in order to facilitate completion of a balanced and effective Farm Bill as quickly as possible this year."

ASA and other organizations must now go over the 900-page chair's mark, and prepare to comment next week. Wellman notes he was pleased to see a "revenue-based risk management program that will complement the federal crop insurance program."

The Senate version of the bill does not cut crop insurance, though there is a lot of pressure from different groups to make the change.

Check out the key points of this new bill below:


Eliminates Direct Payments while Strengthening Risk Management

Farmers face unique risks unlike other businesses. Weather and market conditions outside a producer’s control can have devastating effects. A risk management system that helps producers stay in business through a few bad seasons ensures that Americans always have access to a safe and plentiful food supply. The proposal: 

  • Eliminates direct payments. Farmers will no longer be paid for crops they are not growing, will not be paid for acres that are not actually planted, and will not receive support absent a drop in price or yields.
  • Consolidates two remaining farm programs into one, and will give farmers the ability to tailor risk management coverage—meaning better protection against real risks beyond a farmer’s control.
  • Strengthens crop insurance and expands access so farmers are not wiped out by a few days of bad weather.

Consolidates and Streamlines Programs

By eliminating duplicative programs, funds are concentrated in the areas in which they will have the greatest impact, making them work better for producers. 

  • By ending duplication and consolidating programs, the bill eliminates dozens of programs under the Agriculture Committee’s jurisdiction.
    • For example, the bill consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13 programs, while maintaining the existing tools farmers and landowners need to protect and conserve land, water and wildlife. 

Improves Program Integrity and Accountability

At a time when many out-of-work Americans are in need for the first time in their lives, it is critical that every taxpayer dollar be spent responsibly and serves those truly struggling. By closing loopholes, tightening standards, and requiring greater transparency, the proposal increases efficiency and improves effectiveness. 

  • Increases accountability in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by:
    • Stopping lottery winners from continuing to receive assistance.
    • Ending misuse by college students.
    • Cracking down on retailers and recipients engaged in benefit trafficking.
    • Increasing requirements to prevent liquor and tobacco stores from becoming retailers.
    • Eliminating gaps in standards that result in overpayment of benefits.
    • The proposal maintains benefits for families in need.

Grows America’s Agricultural Economy

The proposal increases efficiency and accountability, saving tens of billions of dollars overall, while strengthening agricultural jobs initiatives by:

  • Expanding export opportunities and helping farmers develop new markets for their goods.
  • Investing in research to help commercialize new agricultural innovations.
  • Growing bio-based manufacturing (businesses producing goods in America from raw agricultural products grown in America) by allowing bio-manufacturers to participate in existing U.S. Department of Agriculture loan programs, expanding the BioPreferred labeling initiative, and strengthening a procurement preference so the U.S. government will select bio-based products when purchasing needed goods.
  • Spurring advancements in bio-energy production, supporting advanced biomass energy production such as cellulosic ethanol and pellets from woody biomass for power.
  • Helping family farmers sell locally by increasing support for farmers’ markets and spurring the creation of food hubs to connect farmers to schools and other community-based consumers.
  • Extending rural development initiatives to help rural communities upgrade infrastructure and create an environment for small businesses to grow.