Hoeven, Stabenow, GOP Senate staff, Vilsack fight over farm bill


Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee and a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., the Senate Agriculture GOP staff, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack got into open conflict over the next farm bill on Thursday.

The conflict started when the Senate Agriculture Committee posted on Instagram a Sept. 8 Hoeven interview with Punchbowl News in which he said that Title 1, which provides subsidies for 20 commodity crops, is “the heart and soul of a farm bill,” and added that until Congress “gets serious” about Title I, the bill won’t be passed.

When Stabenow spoke to the International Fresh Produce Association on Thursday, she pointed out that there are many crops not covered by Title I and that “my heart and soul … is your priority list,” a reference to the needs of fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops that have a separate title.

At about noon, the GOP staff of the Senate Agriculture Committee sent reporters a blog post that said if the $18 billion in the Inflation Reduction Act designated for climate-related agricultural conservation programs is moved into the farm bill, the eligibility criteria should be broadened “to address the conservation needs of all farmers and ranchers — including but not limited to climate-smart agriculture and forestry activities.”

The name of Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., the ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, was not attached to the blog post, although he is the employer of the GOP staff.

The view that the money should be used for a wider variety of conservation practices seemed different from previous statements from some Republicans that the conservation money in the IRA could be used to increase the reference prices that trigger commodity subsidy payments.

A Boozman spokesman said that despite “chatter in recent media coverage,” neither Boozman nor the Republican committee staff has “been pushing to use those dollars for Title I improvements.”

The Republican Senate Ag blog post does not mention the idea of using the money to raise the reference prices, but says that “a recent review of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program financial obligations revealed that fewer than half of the currently funded projects would meet the climate-smart requirements for IRA eligibility.”

The post concludes, “climate mitigation is a laudable goal, and U.S. agriculture represents approximately 10% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.”

“However, moving and then expanding IRA conservation dollars in the farm bill to address other resource concerns can help farmers and ranchers not only adopt practices on the farm that sequester carbon and reduce emissions, but the financial and technical assistance can help with regulatory compliance associated with Waters of the United States, Endangered Species Act, or the Clean Water Act among others.”

In the late afternoon, Stabenow sent out a news release in which she said, “The climate crisis is the most urgent threat facing our farmers today, and all farmers benefit when we take this threat seriously.”

“I am excited to see the record level of applications for these new, robust conservation resources,” Stabenow said. “There are more than $2 billion in requests to participate in the Regional Conservation Partnership Program alone, which by far outpaces the available funding.”

“This new funding supports voluntary, popular, locally led conservation programs like EQIP that our farmers support, want, and are putting to work on their farms. Nearly half of all currently funded applications are implementing climate-smart agriculture practices, and our farmers are excited about the potential of these programs to benefit the climate and their own bottom lines.

“It is surprising to see that these popular resources are being targeted for other priorities, but I am committed to defending them for their intended purposes. I know that there is a broad coalition of support standing with me,” Stabenow said.

Shortly thereafter, a spokesperson for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told The Hagstrom Report in an email, “Contrary to what this analysis tries to portray, funding through the Inflation Reduction Act is helping more farmers than ever adopt the most innovative and effective types of conservation practices, and the programs are so popular that demand remains higher than the amount of funding available.”

“The assertion that these new streams somehow take away from existing farm bill programs simply doesn’t add up — those traditional funds are still available,” Vilsack said.

“This is additive support for farmers, and they’re demanding more of it. USDA has repeatedly shared data with Senate Ag leadership that documents this high demand, so it’s puzzling why they’d issue such a report at a time they should be seeking consensus to pass a bipartisan farm bill that serves all its stakeholders.”

The conflict could be interpreted as a high-level threat to the farm bill, or as a sign that negotiations have reached the point that serious issues are being discussed.

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