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Farm bill, drought aid battles continue

Battles over the scheduling of the farm bill in the House and possible drought assistance measures continued today.

After House leaders outlined a floor schedule for next week that does not include the farm bill, House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., noted that after next week there will be only four days on the legislative calendar before Congress adjourns the first weekend in August until about September 7.

“There is no excuse not to bring the farm bill to the floor,” Peterson said. “We’ve wasted the last two weeks on political messaging bills that are going nowhere. If the Republican leadership were serious about creating jobs and growing our economy, they would bring up this bill. There is no good reason to put one of our nation’s economic bright spots, the rural economy, at risk.”

Meanwhile, there was disagreement over the need for disaster aid.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has said in appearances this week that the House needs to bring up the farm bill with disaster assistance, and that the disaster section of the Senate-passed bill needs to be improved in conference.

The Senate-passed farm bill includes Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP), Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, & Farm-raised Fish Program (ELAP), and the Tree Assistance Program (TAP). The authorization for these programs expired on September 30, 2011.

The Senate bill does not contain a reauthorization of the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE), which was in the 2008 bill.

Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, and Tim Johnson of South Dakota on July 12 introduced legislation to provide a one-year extension of the all agriculture disaster assistance programs that were in the 2008 farm bill.

The four senators' proposed legislation includes SURE, but with a provision to speed up SURE payments by using a “first five months of the marketing year” price calculation rather than the full marketing year period to determine crop prices in calculating farm revenue. The four senators said that as Congress debates whether to take up the farm bill, farmers and ranchers need the certainty of disaster payments.

There seems to be a consensus that livestock producers need aid because they have no crop insurance, but there is debate over whether reviving the SURE program is a good idea. The National Farmers Union has endorsed the program, but National Corn Growers Association Vice President Pam Johnson said this week that disaster aid is not a top priority for corn growers, even though they are hard hit in the drought.

The Environmental Working Group said today that disaster aid is not necessary for farmers because “taxpayers have already given farmers a gold-plated disaster program — it’s called crop insurance — and it will pay farmers indemnities regardless of whether Congress passes a farm bill.”

American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said in a news release Thursday that the drought “underscores the importance of completing action on the 2012 farm bill.”

Stallman noted that, while commodity groups have crop insurance, fruit producers do not have adequate insurance and that both the Senate and House bills would restore provisions to help livestock producers manage weather-related risks.

Stallman left open a window for Farm Bureau to endorse other disaster aid.

“We will be working closely with USDA and Congress to determine if there are other practical solutions that could help producers not covered by crop insurance or other disaster mitigation tools,” he said.

A National Cattlemen’s Beef Association spokesman said his group supports the disaster provisions and the bill, but a National Pork Producers Council spokesman said most pork producers wouldn’t qualify for that aid, “so we really have no fight there.” He added that the council is not making any statement on the timing of the bill’s consideration.

National Journal, the Washington weekly magazine, reported today that some House Republicans are worried that adding disaster aid to the farm bill could make it harder to get the bill through the House, where some members dislike the cost.

“We still need to pass some sort of a farm bill, but to try and push the farm bill because of the drought and do extreme things is irresponsible,” Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., one of the four House Agriculture Committee members who voted against the bill, told National Journal.