Check out the Feb. 3 farm bill debate in the Senate on CSPAN here. If you listen to the lawmakers, it is plain there are deeply divided opinions about the farm bill. In the end, the Senate voted to end debate; that is expected to be followed with final passage the morning of Feb. 4.
Conservatives didn’t like the farm bill because it was too generous with food stamp funding and other excess, while liberals were unhappy with the limited reforms in the bill and the cuts to food stamps.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D. Conn., said this in a recent release:
“Three months after cutting $11 billion from food stamps, our nation’s most important anti-hunger program, supporters of this Farm Bill are trying to cut another $8.6 billion. Yet, they have gone out of their way to reopen loopholes that benefit millionaires and billionaires. The result: winners and losers.
“The winners are wealthy farmers and agri-businesses who will be able to pocket subsidies and handouts beyond the already-generous limits. They will receive more taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance. And they will take advantage of a loophole that allows farming enterprises to over-collect on commodity payments. There is no limit on the number of people working for a given entity who can receive these payments. This means that, for example, eight people at one establishment can collect $125,000 payments each, leading to a $1 million taxpayer subsidy for a single farm.
“The losers are the 850,000 low-income households all over America, 1.7 million Americans, who will lose 66 meals a month with this cut to food stamps, on the heels of the November cut. Children will go to bed hungry and spend the next day at school unable to concentrate. Veterans and working families will face an empty fridge and a gnawing pain. Seniors will have to choose between food and warmth. These are our own, hard-working people we are consigning to this fate.
“Anyone who votes for this bill will have to look those people in the eye and tell them to go without food. I urge the Senate: do not move forward with this bill.”
TK: On the other side of the fence, the Heritage Action Center also wanted Congress to reject, but for opposite reasons:
“America is more than $17 trillion in debt, yet the bill will likely cost $950 billion. Proponents claim it will reduce the deficit, but it is actually a 57-percent increase in the baseline from the 2008 bill, which was projected to cost $604 billion. Not surprisingly, the 2008 bill actually ended up costing much more. As Politico rightly noted earlier this week, “any cost estimate is suspect after the drop in corn prices over the summer. Cash sales were just $4.10 per bushel.” Heritage previously warned “the bigger problem with the CBO estimate is that it presumes that commodity prices will stay at or near record highs.”
Heritage also explains that while some bad subsidies and program were removed, lawmakers replaced them with even riskier taxpayer-funded programs. The inclusion of the Senate’s Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program is of deep concern. An initial CBO score suggested the average cost of about $2.9 billion per year, but an analysis by the American Enterprise Institute found the program “could cost as much as $7 billion annually based on the 15-year historical average price.” The inclusion of the House’s Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program is similarly problematic, setting the baseline for these commodity prices higher than what would be necessary to cover major losses. These baseline scoring gimmicks could wipe out all the “savings” that negotiators are touting in the conference report.
The bill contains many smaller provisions too. For example, in a win for Senate negotiators, it will include $881 million in mandatory funding for the Agriculture Department renewable energy and biofuels programs. According to E&E News, the bill would also, for the fist time, “make renewable chemicals eligible for funding under biorefinery and biomass assistance programs and support crops grown purposefully for the bio-based products industry.” Finally, farmers are currently carrying far less debt compared to their very strong assets. Net farm income is expected to reach “a remarkable $128.2 billion this year – the highest level since 1973,” making the aforementioned farm programs all but insanity The “farm” bill means more expenses for taxpayers and higher costs for consumers. It means more unnecessary government dependence for wealthy farmers and food stamp recipients."
TK: While the specialty crop industry now has more support from the government than contained in a farm bill of 20 years ago, there is certainly no feeling that the specialty crop industry is becoming dependent on federal largesse. Instead, the industry perception is that specialty crop growers are receiving investments in research, nutrition and risk management that are more in keeping (but still somewhat lacking) with its standing in U.S. agriculture.
From United Fresh, here is a summary of what is in the conference report brings to the specialty crop industry.
Title II – Conservation
EQUIP – Reauthorizes the air quality funding carve-out of $37.5 million of EQIP annually through FY2017
Conservation Compliance – Includes requirements that if a producer has crop insurance for a crop (as defined as “cultivated crops”) it is required to have a conservation plan. Specialty crops and new participants (non-title I crops) will have a phase-in time period to comply. Specialty crop producers who wish to have technical assistance with conservation compliance will have first priority. Finally, $10 million agriculture mitigation program is available.
Title III – Trade
Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops – Reauthorizes TASC at $9 million per year
Market Access Program – Reauthorizes MAP at $200 million per year
Title IV – Nutrition
Farm Bill Nutrition Programs – Reauthorizes provisions under Farm Bill for 5 years
Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program – Maintains Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program authorization and baseline funding at $150 million per year. Creates a one-year evaluation process established by USDA for eligible schools in no-less than five states to offer canned, frozen, and dried, along with fresh fruits and vegetables part of the program. Report from this evaluation is due to Congress by January 1, 2015.
Healthy Incentives Program – $100 million program to establish “incentives grants” for projects that incentivize SNAP participants to buy fruits and vegetables.
Section 32 Purchases -- Minimum Specialty Crop Purchases under Section 32 are maintained and reauthorizes current law
Title VI – Rural Development
Value Added Grants – Mandatory funding at $63 million is included.
Title VII – Research
Specialty Crop Research Initiative – Mandatory funding is set for $80 million per year. For FY2014-2018 $25 million per year will be utilized to address the emergency citrus greening mitigation. Legislative language that addresses increased industry participation and prioritization for SCRI grant awards is included.
Title X – Horticulture
Export Apple Act – Included in final conference report
Specialty Crop Block Grants – Funding will include $72.5 million in FY 2014-2017 and $85 million in FY 2018. Includes multi-state funding project to be established by USDA. Also includes language that incorporates research into multi-state projects.
Farmers Market Promotion Program – Includes $30 million per year for FMPP.
Produce Safety Education – Included in conference report
Market News – Included in final conference report
Plant Pest and Disease Program – Includes mandatory funding of $62.5 million in FY 2014-2017 and $75 million in FY2018. Also includes at a minimum $5 million dedicated to the Clean Plant Network
Biological Opinions –Requires a 6-month and 12-month study.
Labor Standards – Included in final conference report.
Administrative Cap – Applies an administrative cost cap on all Title X programs
Title XI – Crop Insurance
Food Safety Feasibility Study – Included in final conference report
Safeguard Provisions – Included in final conference agreement