Ahead of its scheduled markup May 14, Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) released the starting point for farm bill discussions with her mark.
Her bill offers many similarities to last year's version with a targeted savings of $23 billion, and as expected does offer the target price option sought by southern producers and her new ranking member Sen. Thad Cochran (R., Miss.).
As a starting point, the bill again repeals direct payments and programs from the last farm bill including the Average Revenue Crop Election program and the counter-cyclical program. The bill replaces the counter-cyclical program with target prices for covered commodities the same as the counter-cyclical prices are now, except for rice and peanuts.
National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson welcomed the inclusion of target prices, however, said, "in order to be substantial, target prices need to be increased and balanced in a meaningful way. We urge the inclusion of stronger protection against long-term price collapse for all commodities in all regions."
Farmers also have a choice to participate in the Senate's Agricultural Risk Coverage, which allows farmers to enroll in individual coverage or county coverage offering shallow loss protection if prices or yields fall.
American Soybean Assn. president Danny Murphy said the draft released by the Committee "would protect and strengthen crop insurance as well as ensure that a target price program to protect growers from low prices remains decoupled from current planting decisions, thus avoiding the possibility of production distortions. Combined with a revenue protection program similar to that included in last year’s Senate bill, the proposed legislation takes significant steps to provide farmers with effective risk management programs while protecting planting flexibility and avoiding planting distortions."
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) remains virtually unchanged from last year’s bill in both program and funding, with targeted savings at $4.5 billion. The bill closes loopholes and attempts to eliminate fraud and misuse. The House is expected to have a much higher target again on food stamp cuts, in the $20-30 billion range.
The Conservation Reserve Program acreage cap is gradually reduced from 30 million acres to 25 million acres due to budget constraints, and the conservation title remains essentially the same from last year’s Senate farm bill.
Environmental and agricultural groups had joined forces earlier this week in hopes of obtaining language in the chairwoman's mark to prevent conservation compliance from being attached to crop insurance payments. However, that was not included and likely will again come up for debate in the ag committee and on the Senate floor. Reports this week indicated House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) does not support the agreement.
The mark also includes provisions that would establish a per farm cap of $50,000 on all commodity program benefits, except those associated with the marketing loan program (loan deficiency payments and marketing loan gains), which would be capped at $75,000. Thus the combined limit would be $125,000, or, for married couples, $250,000. The $50,000 cap would apply to whatever type of program is developed as part of the new farm bill. The bill also closes loopholes that currently allow non-farmers to qualify for federal farm payments.