Friday, April 27, 2012

Senate Ag Committee Approves Bipartisan 2012 Farm Bill

Apr 26: The U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, Chaired by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) with Ranking Member Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) approved the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, a bipartisan Farm Bill by a vote of 16-5. The bill reforms food and agricultural policy by eliminating direct payments and emphasizing the need to strengthen risk management tools for farmers, saving billions of dollars. Overall, the 2012 Senate Farm Bill will reduce the deficit by $23 billion dollars by eliminating unnecessary subsidies, consolidating programs to end duplication, and cracking down on food assistance abuse. The 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.

    Chairman Stabenow said, "The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 will save taxpayers billions of dollars while promising a safe and healthy national food supply. By eliminating duplication, and streamlining and consolidating programs, we were able to continue investing in initiatives that help farmers and small businesses create jobs. This bill proves that by working across party lines, we can save taxpayer money and create smart, cost-effective policies that lay the foundation for a stronger, more prosperous economy.  I am proud that once again the Agriculture Committee was able to work together in a bipartisan way to complete major reforms that save money and grow our economy. We now look forward to continuing to work with our colleagues in a bipartisan way to ensure we enact a Farm Bill this year before the current one expires. Agriculture supports 16 million jobs in our country, and it is absolutely critical to provide farmers the certainty they need to plan and grow by passing a Farm Bill this year."

    Senator Roberts said, "We've worked hard to put together the best bill possible. We've performed our duty to taxpayers by cutting deficit spending while at the same time strengthening and preserving the programs so important to agriculture and rural America. And, we've done it in a bipartisan fashion. I look forward to the bill's consideration on the Senate floor to further the debate on our efforts to save taxpayer dollars, continue to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse, and end redundant programs."

     Representative Frank Lucas (R-OK) Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee issued a statement on the Senate bill saying, "I commend Chairwoman Stabenow, Ranking Member Roberts and the other members of the Senate Ag Committee for advancing their farm bill today. This is an important first step in the development of the next Farm Bill. I look forward to concluding the House Agriculture Committee's hearing process and working with Ranking Member Peterson and members of the Committee to write the House bill in the coming weeks.

    "I am disappointed by the Senate bill's commodity title because it does not work for all of agriculture. It fails to provide producers a viable safety net and instead locks in profit for a couple of commodities. I have made it clear that my chief priority is making certain that the commodity title is equitable and provides a safety net for all covered commodities and all regions of the country. A shallow loss program is not a safety net. It does not provide protection against price declines over multiple years and it does not work for all commodities."

    The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) issued a release thanking members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, for reauthorizing farm programs that are valuable to the biotechnology industry and ensuring they have the funding to work. BIO President & CEO Jim Greenwood said, "The important energy title programs authorized and funded in this bill are just beginning to have a positive impact in revitalizing rural America, fueling economic growth and creating well-paying opportunities where we need it most -- in manufacturing, energy, agriculture and forestry. These programs can also help meet our responsibilities to revitalize rural areas, reduce dependence on foreign oil, and renew economic growth. The Farm Bill's energy title and proposals to support biomanufacturing will help the United States maintain its competitive leadership in biotechnology, manufacturing and agriculture – ensuring that what we grow here in the United States can be used to make new products here and create jobs here.

    "These programs would provide the highest return on taxpayer dollars and ensure the future of emerging energy and renewable chemical markets, if the bill is passed by the full Congress. These programs already have helped renewable energy companies unlock private capital for construction of advanced biorefineries, something that has been extraordinarily difficult during the recent economic downturn. They also have helped farmers in over 150 counties across 10 states begin to put more than 150,000 acres of underutilized farmland into production of next generation energy crops. The programs have further ignited an explosion of innovation and early commercialization of renewable chemicals here in the United States."

    The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) issued a statement saying it believes the Farm Bill approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee offers a unique opportunity to influence what the nation's farmers grow -- and how they grow it --for years to come.  Justin Tatham, Senior Washington Representative for the Food & Environment Program at UCS said, "The Union of Concerned Scientists lauds Senators Stabenow and Roberts for kicking off the Farm Bill deliberations with a bipartisan committee bill. In some regards, progress has been made, but more needs to be done to expand the production of local and healthy food, ensure basic levels of on-farm conservation, promote the adoption of sustainable agriculture practices, and foster a more robust research agenda.

    "The direction in the committee bill to develop a whole-farm revenue program that offers effective insurance coverage nationwide is a huge step in helping small, local farmers. Funding included in the bill for programs to support organic food production and expand local food systems is critical. . . additional funding and policy changes are needed to help these growing sectors of the agriculture economy reach their full potential. Organic farmers in particular still have a tough row to hoe with the bill's failure to eliminate an unnecessary insurance premium surcharge placed on organic producers. . . we believe the absence of conservation compliance requirements for crop and revenue insurance is a critical flaw." 

    The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) commended the Committee's approval and Julie Sibbing, director of agriculture and forestry programs at NWF said, "The final bill must ensure that farmers receiving taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance do not drain wetlands and cultivate erosion-prone soil without conservation measures. Unfortunately, the bill as it stands now would allow farmers to continue to receive taxpayer-supported crop insurance without complying with such measures. It is unfair to ask taxpayers to help fund insurance for farmers while these same farmers are increasing the risk to downstream communities." NWF said, "The lack of wetlands protection requirements for crop insurance recipients means the estimated $90 billion to be spent on taxpayer subsidies for crop insurance over the next ten years could be subsidizing the destruction of tens of thousands of acres of valuable wetlands, resulting in increased downstream flooding and loss of wildlife habitat."

    NWF praised the inclusion of a number of modifications to the farm bill, including an amendment by Senator Thune to discourage the destruction of native prairies, an amendment by Senator Conrad to provide mandatory funding for Energy title programs (including the Biomass Crop Assistance Program and the Rural Energy for America Program) and an amendment by Senator Brown to add nutrient management as a goal of the Regional Conservation Partnerships program, a new initiative hat will strategically direct resources to improve the health of some of the nation's Great Waters such as the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes.

    Access a release from Senator Stabenow that summarizes key provisions (click here). Access a release from Sen. Roberts (click here). Access a copy of the Senate bill, including the amendments that were accepted by the Committee, a section-by-section summary and webcast of the markup procedures (click here). Access the statement from Representative Lucas (click here). Access the BIO release (click here). Access the UCS release (click here). Access the NWF release (click here). [#Agriculture]

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