No one is arguing that the movement of the farm bill from the Senate Agriculture Committee to the Senate isn't a positive step forward. However; when it comes to the bill that was voted out of committee, opinions begin to widely vary.
Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, is very pleased with the bill that was ushered through the Senate Agriculture Committee and was passed by a unanimous vote.
"We were able to work within a very strict budget allocation to complete our work and pass a farm bill that I believe is good for agriculture, good for rural areas, conservation, energy security and good for better health of Americans," Harkin says.
While the National Farmers Union agrees with Harkin that the bill passed has many beneficial provisions that will positively impact America's farmers, ranchers and rural communities, the American Farm Bureau Federation is not as pleased.
"The comprehensive farm legislation is a significant improvement over the initial legislative package the committee started with earlier this week," says AFBF President Bob Stallman. "We remain concerned that when the budget numbers on the final Senate Agriculture Committee bill are finalized, we will find that commodity title funding will have been reduced in order to increase funding for other priorities."
The American Soybean Association voiced its approval of the step forward, but still has concerns about the legislation.
"While the bill passed by Committee does not fully reflect ASA’s priorities on support for soybean producer income and biodiesel production," says ASA President John Hoffman, "ASA will work with both Senate and House Conferees to address these issues and reach an agreement that will meet the needs of U.S. soybean farmers."
The National Corn Growers Association was most disappointed by the passage of an amendment offered by Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., which stripped the crop insurance integration from the Average Crop Revenue program.
"NCGA is deeply disappointed with this setback," said NCGA President Ron Litterer. "The amendment makes the revenue proposal a much less attractive option to growers."
Acting Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner weighed in on the legislation Thursday afternoon. While he was pleased that the committee had included many of the administration's priorities, he said there was still much work needed to improve the bill.
"There's not enough reform in this, not enough in terms of the AGI limits, not enough in terms of loan rates and target prices, a number of areas that are vital to us," Conner said. "But we are confident that we can work these things out; that we can work with the members of Congress on this. The president is anxious to sign a farm bill this year and I know producers are anxious to have a farm bill as soon as possible so they can know the rules of the game."
Payment limitations were also a concern for Conner.
"The adjusted gross income limit that has been passed by the Senate Committee with its so-called soft cap we don't believe at this point represents real reform," Conner said. "And really equates to no reform at all."
An amendment from Senators Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, to set a hard cap of $250,000 on farm payments is expected to be introduced on the floor, which will lead to some very spirited debate on payment limitations.
Another area that Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Keenum expects to see some lively debate is the controversial ban on packer ownership of livestock. It's not a complete ban, but a packer would be limited on the percentage of the livestock that they process in their packing plant and they would have to limit how many days they can hold livestock before it's processed.
"It's something that's been discussed for many years as an issue to address, what some people view as unfair competition in certain areas of the livestock arena," Keenum said. "It is controversial, it's going to be debated on the floor, and I'm sure it will be a conferenceable issue when the House sits down with the Senate."
Previous attempts to limit packer ownership of livestock have not been successful. The provision was passed by the Senate in 2002, but was removed during the conference with the Senate.
Harkin says floor debate could begin early next week, however Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., may want to work on the Children's Health Insurance Program next week if the House approves it, which would push debate of the Farm Bill into the first week of November.