Last week, a Farm Bill Now coalition of more than 40 U.S. farm organizations began pressing Congress to pass a comprehensive, five-year farm bill before current farm programs expire on September 30. Failing that, farm programs would revert back to 1939 law.
There are many differences between U.S. House and Senate versions yet to be ironed out, says Sam Kieffer, national governmental relations director for Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. Here are a few of the points that Kieffer recently shared from a Congressional Reference Service report:
One Senate provision is for the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation to develop a whole farm risk management plan, now called Adjusted Gross Revenue and AGR-Lite policies, with liability of $1.5 million ($1.0 million in House version) that pays an indemnity if gross farm income is below 85%. That compares to 80% under the current plan. Coverage may include value of packing, packaging or other on-farm activities.
The Senate’s version would require FCIC to develop an organic crop insurance program with price elections that reflect organic prices. The House version encourages but doesn’t mandate it.
Also new in the Senate proposal is a limit on crop insurance subsidies. Beginning with the 2014 crop insurance year, insurance premium subsidies would be reduced by 15% for producers with average adjusted gross revenue greater than $750,000.That would kick in only after USDA determines that the change wouldn’t significantly impact premiums for lower income farmers, reduce crop coverage availability or increase total insurance program costs. And, total non-nutrition items of it amount to less than one-half of 1% of the federal budget.
The House version would repeal the current performance-based premium discounts having good insurance or production experience, while the Senate version would make no change.
The House version would increase livestock program funding to $50 million. The Senate version wouldn’t change.
Both versions would give beginning farmers an extra 10% break on premiums for buy-up insurance coverage above the catastrophic yield policies.
Congressmen from non-farm districts will vote according to how their constituents perceive the Farm Bill, says Kieffer. In many quarters, it’s seen as farm welfare, despite that 83% of the Farm Bill is for nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Given the upcoming election, he expects several possible scenarios for the Farm Bill. One might be a short extension of the current law to get past the election. But what he calls the “real Farm Bill” is most likely to come in a post-election “lame duck” session.