Farm Bill in Progress: House Ag Committee Farm Bill Fallout
By Patty Lovera
The House Agriculture Committee adopted its version of the 2012 farm bill, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FAARM), early Thursday morning after an all day session to “mark up” the bill with amendments. Here’s a media statement on what we think about the bill.
The House committee’s farm bill has some significant differences from what the Senate passed last month. It maintains commodity crop programs that make payments for farmers based on crop price, while the Senate version ends those programs and shifts commodity producers to a crop insurance model. Both the House and Senate versions do away with direct payments to commodity crop producers, a type of payment that is not tied to market conditions or actual production.
The House Ag Committee bill, approved by a 35 to 11 vote, would cut the commodity title by $14 billion, the conservation title by $6 billion and the nutrition title by $16.5 billion. This is in comparison to the Senate version that cuts $15 billion in the commodity title, $6 billion in conservation and $4.5 billion in nutrition programs.
The bill passed by the House Ag Committee ends important programs for sustainable agriculture and beginning farmers, including the National Certification Cost-Share Assistance Program for organic farmers and handlers. And, the House bill guts the already insufficient regulatory process for approving genetically engineered crops.
A lot of the action during the markup related to the nutrition title, which primarily funds the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps). The House bill cuts $16 billion from SNAP benefits, primarily by limiting eligibility. The Committee rejected an effort to make the cuts even steeper (by applying the draconian Ryan Budget cuts) but also rejected an effort to restore the SNAP cuts or use the lower level of $4 billion in cuts in the Senate farm bill. The Committee did allow for people with SNAP to use their benefits to purchase a share in community supported agriculture (CSA) local farms and approved an amendment to direct money to farmers market programs to increase access for SNAP recipients.
There were a few bright spots during the markup, including successful amendments to make crop insurance more useful for organic farmers (offered by Rep. Welch, D-VT) and a bad amendment to block a new USDA inspection program for domestic and imported catfish was defeated (offered by Rep. Hartzler, R- MO).
On the livestock front, the House Ag Committee’s bill is a disappointment. The committee adopted an amendment to require the USDA to submit a report detailing the steps the secretary will take to comply with the ruling by the World Trade Organization that the U.S. country-of-origin labeling program for meat violates international trade rules and another amendment that would repeal contract fairness rules that the USDA’s Grain Inspection Packers & Stockyards Administration already implemented after the last farm bill.
Now that the Agriculture Committee has adopted its version of the bill, the next step is the House floor. There is no firm date for when this could happen and the House is expected to go on recess during August. The current farm bill expires at the end of September. There are rumors that the House Agriculture Committee bill could be used to negotiate a final version of the bill with the Senate, without ever going to the House floor, and then be passed as an amendment to another unrelated bill. Time will tell.