Here is the link to the (gulp) 900-page farm bill print put out by the Senate Agriculture Committee. This document will be added to and subtracted from, notably in the Senate Agriculture Committee "markup" session next Wednesday.
Here is how Sen. Stabenow's office summarizes the document:
Chairwoman's Summary of the 2012 Farm Bill Committee Print
Friday, April 20, 2012
The Committee Print of the 2012 Farm Bill reforms farm policy, consolidates and streamlines programs, and will reduce the deficit by $23 billion. This bill saves taxpayers money while strengthening initiatives that help farmers, ranchers and small business owners create American jobs.
Eliminates Direct Payments while Strengthening Risk Management
Farmers face unique risks unlike other businesses. Weather and market conditions outside a producer’s control can have devastating effects. A risk management system that helps producers stay in business through a few bad seasons ensures that Americans always have access to a safe and plentiful food supply. The proposal:
• Eliminates direct payments. Farmers will no longer be paid for crops they are not growing, will not be paid for acres that are not actually planted, and will not receive support absent a drop in price or yields.
• Consolidates two remaining farm programs into one, and will give farmers the ability to tailor risk management coverage—meaning better protection against real risks beyond a farmer’s control.
• Strengthens crop insurance and expands access so farmers are not wiped out by a few days of bad weather.
Consolidates and Streamlines Programs
By eliminating duplicative programs, funds are concentrated in the areas in which they will have the greatest impact, making them work better for producers.
• By ending duplication and consolidating programs, the bill eliminates dozens of programs under the Agriculture Committee’s jurisdiction.
• For example, the bill consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13 programs, while maintaining the existing tools farmers and landowners need to protect and conserve land, water and wildlife.
Improves Program Integrity and Accountability
At a time when many out-of-work Americans are in need for the first time in their lives, it is critical that every taxpayer dollar be spent responsibly and serves those truly struggling. By closing loopholes, tightening standards, and requiring greater transparency, the proposal increases efficiency and improves effectiveness.
• Increases accountability in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by:
o Stopping lottery winners from continuing to receive assistance.
o Ending misuse by college students.
o Cracking down on retailers and recipients engaged in benefit trafficking.
o Increasing requirements to prevent liquor and tobacco stores from becoming retailers.
o Eliminating gaps in standards that result in overpayment of benefits.
• The proposal maintains benefits for families in need.
Grows America’s Agricultural Economy
The proposal increases efficiency and accountability, saving tens of billions of dollars overall, while strengthening agricultural jobs initiatives by:
• Expanding export opportunities and helping farmers develop new markets for their goods.
• Investing in research to help commercialize new agricultural innovations.
• Growing bio-based manufacturing (businesses producing goods in America from raw agricultural products grown in America) by allowing bio-manufacturers to participate in existing U.S. Department of
Agriculture loan programs, expanding the BioPreferred labeling initiative, and strengthening a procurement preference so the U.S. government will select bio-based products when purchasing needed goods.
• Spurring advancements in bio-energy production, supporting advanced biomass energy production such as cellulosic ethanol and pellets from woody biomass for power.
• Helping family farmers sell locally by increasing support for farmers’ markets and spurring the creation of food hubs to connect farmers to schools and other community-based consumers.
• Extending rural development initiatives to help rural communities upgrade infrastructure and create an environment for small businesses to grow
Initial reaction from Agriculture Secretary Vilsack:
"I commend Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking Member Roberts for working together in a bipartisan fashion to write a farm, food and jobs bill this year. Farmers, ranchers, and the men and women who live in rural communities deserve to know what the rules will be moving forward. With the current law expiring, we cannot wait any longer to reauthorize this essential law for rural America.
"While we still need to review all of the policies, reforms and investments proposed in this bill, I am optimistic that members of Congress will work to pass legislation that will support farmers, guarantee a safe, affordable, and nutritious food supply, support nutrition programs that help millions of families put food on the table, and help create jobs for the American people."
TK: Nothing yet from the major produce associations on this draft. There is not much in Stabenow's summary to take away with respect to specialty crop priorities. However, the word on the street before the release of the document was that it was friendly to the specialty crop industry. We will delve deeper into the mammoth document next week for a closer look at Title X - the horticulture title of the farm bill.
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