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Negotiators Return Conference Report on Farm Bill

House is expected to take up bill later this week

Published on: Jan 27, 2014

House and Senate agriculture leaders on Monday announced a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on a five-year farm bill.

The bill, dubbed the Agricultural Act of 2014, is estimated to save about $24 billion over a 10-year period. The House is expected to take up the report later this week, while the Senate may consider it next week.

"Despite the Senate’s unwillingness to challenge the status-quo and include all of the critical reforms to important programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the finalized Farm Bill will include a new initiative that allows states to implement work requirements for able-bodied adults as well as initiatives to help move individuals from dependence to self-sufficiency and independence," commented House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who said he would support the bill.

END IN SIGHT? The House is expected to take up the new farm bill later this week
END IN SIGHT? The House is expected to take up the new farm bill later this week

The bill eliminates direct payments and strengthens disaster support for farmers. Conservation programs are also a focus of the agreement, the Senate and House ag committees report.

Several key issues in the House and Senate versions of the bill lengthened the negotiating process, including food stamps, payment limits and the Country of Origin Labeling rule.

“While I hoped many of (the farm and food stamp) reforms would go further, the status quo is simply unacceptable," noted House Speaker John Boehner. "I have voted against the last two Farm Bills because, in my view, they made farm and food stamp policy worse rather than better.  This legislation, however, is worthy of the House’s support."

According to a joint statement from the House and Senate ag committees, savings from the nutrition title were afforded without removing anyone from the SNAP program. Several changes were made, however, including closing a loophole that allowed states to provide food benefits to residents automatically if they receive a small amount of heating aid.

The statement indicated that new pilot programs to help people secure employment through job training and other services have also been approved in the new bill, along with a provision that prohibits lottery winners from receiving assistance.

"I am proud of our efforts to finish a farm bill conference report with significant savings and reforms," said Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. "We are putting in place sound policy that is good for farmers, ranchers, consumers, and those who have hit difficult times.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the bill "proves that by working across party lines we can reform programs to save taxpayer money while strengthening efforts to grow our economy."

Country of Origin Labeling regulations appear to be unchanged in the farm bill report. Earlier Monday, livestock groups threatened to oppose the final bill if COOL regulations were included.

The groups, including the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said the rules would create a rift between key trading partners Canada and Mexico, both of which have filed disputes with the World Trade Organization regarding COOL. In addition, the groups say, costs will be higher for packers, who will be forced to segregate animals based on the country in which they were raised, born and slaughtered.

Supporters say the rule provides consumers with needed information.

On the safety net front, the bill includes a choice between a revenue program that covers both price and yield losses with county and farm level options, and a price support program which allows the optional purchase of insurance coverage under a Supplemental Coverage Option.

The bill also eliminates direct payments while maintaining decoupled farm support programs that will minimize the possibility of planting and production distortions that could trigger new WTO challenges.

The language in Title 1 allows producers to choose between maintaining existing crop acreage base or reallocating their current base acreage to reflect average acres planted to covered commodities in 2009-2012, the American Soybean Association reports.

For crop insurance, the bill makes enterprise units permanent, allows growers to purchase enterprise unit coverage for both irrigated and dryland crops, authorizes a new Supplemental Coverage Option and will provide a10% increase in premium support to beginning farmers and ranchers.

Conservation compliance will also be tied to crop insurance.

The bill includes ag research programs, like the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative and the new Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research.

The Foreign Market Development and Market Access Program are also included in the bill, ASA points out.

Dairy programs, which were rumored to be a significant hang-up in negotiations, will now include a stand-alone margin insurance program, according to the National Milk Producers Federation.

It also establishes a system for the USDA to purchase consumer-packaged dairy products during low-margin periods, which will stimulate demand and help dairy farmers when they need it most, and only then, NMPF said.

"Compromise is rare in Washington these days but it's what is needed to actually get things done," commented Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn. "While it's no secret that I do not support some of the final bill's provisions, I believe my reservations are outweighed by the need to provide long term certainty for agriculture and nutrition programs. This process has been going on far too long; I urge my colleagues to support this bill and the President to quickly sign it into law."