By NFU government relations staff

It’s a mixed bag, but it’s progress. After a more than 13-hour-long markup, the House Agriculture Committee approved its version of the 2012 Farm Bill, known as the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act. Some of the provisions supported by NFU made it into the House bill, some didn’t, and a few less desirable elements were included as well. Most importantly, however, is that the bill moves forward so that an opportunity remains for the farm bill to be completed soon.

As Chairman Lucas rightly observed in his opening statement, “a safety net is written with bad times in mind. These programs should not guarantee that the good times are the best, but rather that the bad times are manageable.” With the inclusion of the new Price Loss Coverage program in Title I of the FARRM Act, which establishes target prices for program crops, farmers can choose to be protected against multi-year price collapse. This is an improvement on the Senate farm bill, which did not include meaningful safeguards against prolonged bad prices.

NFU also supports the second major component of the farm safety net in the house bill: the Revenue Loss Coverage (RLC) program. However, the committee chose to require farmers to make a one-time election between PLC and RLC. As the bill continues to move through the House and into conference, NFU will continue to advocate for a comprehensive program that includes protection from both revenue loss and price collapse in order to ensure family farmers have a safety net that works for them in difficult times, regardless of whether their need was caused by weather disasters or disastrously low prices. All of these protections are in addition to the federal crop insurance program, which remained intact in both the House and Senate bills.

NFU fought hard to protect existing sugar and dairy provisions in the bill. As a result, the committee defeated amendment #23  by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., that would have drastically altered the no-cost sugar program (by a roll call vote of 10 – 36, see the below spreadsheet), as well as defeated amendment #85 by Reps. Bob Goodlatte and David Scott, D-Ga., that would have repealed the stabilization provision from the draft legislation’s new dairy program (by a roll call vote of 17 – 29). Both of these provisions, the sugar program and dairy supply management, are economical ways to address some of the root causes of poor prices in agriculture and should viewed as good examples of sound policy.

NFU was successful in protecting conservation programs from further cuts. The committee consolidated 23 programs into 13 in the conservation title, saving $6 billion dollars. However, the bill maintains support for effective delivery of conservation programs such as a fully funded Environmental Quality Incentives Program, continuation of the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Conservation Reserve Program, and newly consolidated programs like the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

There are several areas of great concern to NFU in the committee-passed FARRM Act. The Senate-passed bill included $800 million in mandatory funding for core energy programs. The House bill completely eliminated mandatory funding and even reduced discretionary levels to where programs would face major challenges. The programs in the energy title are among the most popular and defensible in the eyes of the American public. They include unique programs like the Biomass Crop Assistance Program and the Biorefinery Assistance Program that help commercialize the next generation of biofuels and create jobs across the country. Furthermore, the House bill barred funding under the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) from going to ethanol blender pumps. REAP is the only federal program to funds the expansion of blender pumps, and without further buildout of infrastructure, the biofuels industry will be hard pressed to increase its share over transportation fuel in relation to oil.

Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, offered an amendment preventing the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) from doing any further work on the rule issued as directed by the 2008 Farm Bill establishing protections for livestock producers. The amendment passed on voice vote despite vocal opposition from Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa), who championed the provision in 2008. Rep. Peterson put it best when he told the committee, “You are opening up one huge can of worms and I don’t think it’s smart.”

Similarly, an amendment offered by Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) undermining the country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law and again opposed by Reps. Peterson and Boswell passed, 34-12 (see below spreadsheet for the roll call on Amendment #74 for details). Although the amendment seemed innocuous, merely asking USDA to report on the steps it will take to bring COOL regulations into compliance with the World Trade Organization’s recent decision, adding legislative language about the law when only regulatory action is needed will only serve as a means for opponents to repeal COOL when the farm bill is considered on the House floor or in a conference committee. NFU expects both the GIPSA rule and COOL will be huge, contentious battles to fight throughout the remainder of the farm bill process.

NFU urged the committee to adopt a national sodsaver requirement, however the committee failed to consider an amendment from Reps. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) and Kristi Noem (R-S.D.). The amendment would have established a national sodsaver provision that limits crop insurance availability for native sod and fragile grasslands, and savings gained would have been reinvested into the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. The amendment was offered by Rep. Walz but subsequently withdrawn after a secondary amendment from Chairman Lucas and Rep. Michael Conaway would have exempted Oklahoma and Texas from the requirement.

The FARRM Act, as approved early Thursday morning, included relatively lax payment limits for PLC and RLC, with an individual payment cap of $125,000 and excludes anyone with an adjusted gross income (AGI) greater than $950,000 from receiving assistance. NFU supported an amendment from Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) that would have lowered those figures to $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for married couples, but the amendment was withdrawn before a vote could be taken. The Senate bill has stronger payment limits, including a limitation on crop insurance premium subsidies for very high income farmers, which NFU supports.

NFU is glad the House Agriculture Committee did its work and favorably passed the bill out of committee, advancing the legislation another step before the September 30 expiration of current law. We continue to strongly encourage House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor  to allow floor time as soon as possible for this bipartisan legislation that is so critically important to every American. There are several big steps to go, but we hope that it moves quickly. The farm bill might not be perfect right now, but action is urgently needed.

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