After many hours of debate this week, both the House and the Senate agriculture committees passed their respective versions of the 2013 Farm Bill. This comes as a great relief to many agricultural producers, as last year Congress failed to pass a farm bill.
The two versions are more similar than they are different, giving farmers and ranchers hope that a comprehensive farm bill will indeed get passed before the September 30 deadline, which is when the current farm bill is set to expire.
“This provides a great reason for optimism that we will have a new long-term farm bill this year. With the implementation of a new farm bill, farmers and ranchers will be given certainty about the rules and regulations they must follow,” said Don Shawcroft, President of Colorado Farm Bureau.
The Senate passed their version on May 14 by a vote of 15-5, called the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013. This $955 billion version saves $23 billion dollars from the current farm bill, over 10 years.
According to a press release put out by the Senate Agricultural Committee, “The bill includes major reform in food and agricultural policy by ending direct payments and transitioning to responsible risk management tools that support farmers only when they have been impacted by disaster, saving taxpayers billions of dollars. Overall, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 will yield a total of over $23 billion dollars in spending cuts by eliminating unnecessary subsidies, consolidating programs to end duplication, and combating misuse and fraud in food assistance programs. These reforms allow for the strengthening of key initiatives that help farmers and small businesses reach new markets and create American jobs. The measure will now go to the full Senate for consideration.”
Committee Chairwoman Senator Debbie Stabenow said, “Reforming agriculture programs will save taxpayers billions of dollars while helping farmers, ranchers and small businesses create American jobs. Because the Agriculture Committee worked across party lines to streamline programs, we were able to save tax dollars while investing in initiatives that help boost exports, help family farmers sell locally and spur innovations in new bio-manufacturing and bio-energy industries.”
Stabenow continued, “We look forward to continuing to work with our colleagues in a bipartisan way to enact a Farm Bill this year before the current extension expires. Agriculture supports 16 million jobs in this country, and it’s absolutely critical to provide farmers the certainty they need to plan and grow by passing a Farm Bill this year.”
Passing a farm bill this year is crucial. “Agriculture is a bright spot in America’s economy. The Senate’s 2013 Farm Bill strengthens top priorities that help farmers, ranchers and small business owners create jobs. The current Farm Bill expires September 30. A new Farm Bill must be passed this year to provide farmers the certainty they need to keep driving our economic recovery,” the release stated.
It continued, “Sixteen million jobs hang in the balance. Last year’s similar Senate Farm Bill passed the Senate with a wide bipartisan vote, 64-35. The Farm Bill is broadly supported by Democrats and Republicans across the country for its major reforms, common sense deficit reduction and strengthened job creation initiatives.”
The House passed their version, called the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act of 2013, on May 15 by a vote of 36-10. This $940 billion version would save nearly $40 billion over 10 years.
“I am proud of the Committee’s effort to advance a farm bill with significant savings and reforms. We achieve nearly $40 billion in savings by eliminating outdated government programs and reforming others. No other committee in Congress is voluntarily cutting money, in a bipartisan way, from its jurisdiction to reduce the size and scope of the federal government. I appreciate the efforts of my colleagues and the bipartisan nature in which this legislation was written and approved. I look forward to debating the bill on the House floor this summer,” said Chairman Frank Lucas.
“I’m pleased the Committee was able to work together, find some common ground, and advance a five-year farm bill today. Needless to say this process has gone on far too long and it is past time to get this bill done. With today’s action, I’m optimistic the farm bill will continue through regular order and be brought to the House floor in June. If we can stay on track, I think we should be able to conference with the Senate in July and have a new five-year farm bill in place before the August recess,” said Ranking Member Collin Peterson.
One of the biggest differences in the two versions is the cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP. A little over half of the House’s version in cuts, $20.5 million, come from this program. The Senate’s version cuts $4.1 billion from this program.
Both versions of the bill would eliminate direct payments to farmers, which are made each year to farmers regardless of conditions. Farmers who produce wheat, corn, cotton, soybeans and other crops have received about $5 billion in direct payments.
The money that is saved from these programs will be allocated into other subsidy programs such as crop insurance, which will expand access to farmers.
The house version repeals or consolidates more than 100 programs, and consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13 programs, while maintaining existing tools to protect and conserve land, water and wildlife. The Senate’s version is similar.
Both versions left the sugar program as is, with price support and restrictions on imports. The House version restores the insurance programs for livestock producers, which comes as a relief to many producers.
This provision, which expired in 2001, left many ranchers without any form of disaster coverage as they have battled the most severe drought the U.S. has seen in 50 years. “The restoration of these programs will greatly help Colorado’s ranchers as we continue to struggle with drought, and the possibility of selling out,” said Shawcroft, who is a rancher in the San Luis Valley.
Both bills provide a solid start for a farm bill that serves America’s farm and ranch families. “The emphasis on crop insurance as a risk management tool, combined with flexibility that the measures offered through other safety net choices, will go a long way in ensuring a stable agricultural economy over the next few years. These bills represent a good balance among the interested parties, and CFB looks forward to working with our Senators and Members of Congress as these bills progress,” Shawcroft stated. ❖