Farm groups and legislators were at work Tuesday ironing out agreements and positions on the next Farm Bill, focusing on crop insurance issues, hen housing standards and mark-up dates.
Action warmed up as Senate Ag Committee leaders announced they would begin mark-up of a 2013 Farm Bill on May 14, just one day before the House Ag Committee's previously announced unofficial start date of May 15.
Similar to last year, the Senate still looks for $23 billion in savings from Farm Bill changes, while the House is aiming for $38 billion – $3 billion more than last year, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
Ag groups draft crop insurance compromise
With action on the 2013 Farm Bill really starting to move, a group of 44 conservation and ag organizations said Tuesday they have reached an agreement linking conservation compliance and crop insurance.
Under the agreement's recommendations, crop insurance would continue to be available to help farmers manage their risks and meet the requirements of their lenders. But under certain circumstances, if a farmer is found to be out of compliance with conservation mandates, his or her eligibility for premium assistance would be eliminated until compliance conditions are satisfied, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation, a signatory on the agreement.
The group also opposes means testing, payment limitations or premium subsidy reductions for the crop insurance program.
The recommendations have been sent to both the Senate and House Agriculture Committees.
"It is no secret that much of agriculture fought the compliance amendment during last year's Senate debate on the farm bill," said Bob Stallman, AFBF president. "But our desire to avoid a time-consuming and contentious debate with our long-standing partners on workable environmental stewardship programs helped build a consensus around rational provisions that protect farmers while furthering the conservation of natural resources."
According to the agreement, the groups signing on agreed to not support amendments beyond the compromise that might weaken crop insurance program, or amendments that might not link conservation compliance with crop insurance premium assistance.
Farm Bill won't include 'Egg Bill'
Also Tuesday, National Cattlemen's Beef Association Vice President of Government Affairs Collin Woodall noted that a bill to establish a national standard for hen housing and the labeling of eggs has been eliminated for consideration as part of the Farm Bill.
The "egg bill" as some call it, is the product of an agreement between the United Egg Producers and the Humane Society of the United States.
Woodall noted that some livestock groups, and especially the NCBA, have been against the bill due to concern that it would set a precedent for HSUS to dictate housing standards of other farm sectors.
"Congress has never told us how to produce that calf or lay that egg. This would completely change that dynamic and set a precedent that we're afraid other activist groups will then use to come after all of the rest of us in animal agriculture," Woodall said.
However, Woodall added that the amendment process could still allow the egg bill to be included in the larger Farm Bill.
Still on track to hit the floor
Tuesday's Farm Bill movements come just days after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., released a memo to House Republicans outlining support for floor time on the 2013 Farm Bill.
In the memo, Cantor outlined legislative priorities for the summer, and noted he expected "a heavy legislative workload in the summer months leading up to the August recess."
Additionally, he said, "we will consider a Farm bill produced by the Agriculture Committee and Frank Lucas. We have a busy legislative agenda planned this summer and our schedule will undoubtedly require further additions."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced last week he is open to bringing the bill to the Senate floor quickly, even prior to immigration debates in June.
Battle continues over SNAP
Even if the bill does make it to the floor, it won't come easy. Some farm groups speculate that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will be a big hang-up in committee mark-up. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., reportedly plans to cut the program by $20 billion over 10 years, according to the Tulsa World.
On the flip side, Senate Ag Committee member Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has said she will stand by the nearly one-third of her colleagues in pushing the ag committee to fully fund the SNAP program and restore $4 billion in cuts that were proposed under last year's senate bill.
Gillibrand said the proposed cuts would result in an average benefit reduction of $90 per month for nearly half a million households. Additionally, the senator said she would propose an amendment to the Farm Bill to restore the cuts.