The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


Most ag groups oppose farm bill extension


When House Republican leaders begin trying on Tuesday to assess support for their bill to extend most of the 2008 farm bill with disaster aid attached, they will not find much support among farm, conservation or rural development groups, while most nutrition groups appear neutral.

In fact, the prospect of an extension bill seems to have rallied support for a five-year farm bill.

The House Rules Committee is scheduled to take up the bill at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said he believes the bill will come up on the House floor on Wednesday.

There are still rumors that House leaders will decide to propose a disaster aid bill alone rather than as part of a farm bill extension. House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said today that he does not believe there are the votes to pass the extension bill.
Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.
Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.
“I was finally reached out to on Saturday by some of the leadership,” Peterson said in an interview with the Red River Farm Network. “I explained my position that we need to get this [five-year] bill done.”

“It’s just mystifying to me why these guys can’t take ‘yes’ for an answer,” he said. “We got a bipartisan bill, we’re doing things the way we’re supposed to do it and then they come up with this extension which they never even talked to us about.”

Peterson said this was the first time in his 23 years on the committee that Republicans put a bill together without talking to the Democrats.

One farm lobbyist with multiple clients said they did not want to go public on an issue of process, but “All of our folks want a five-year farm bill this year.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, the American Soybean Association and the National Association of Wheat Growers said today they would not support the extension/disaster aid bill. The National Corn Growers Association and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition came out against the extension on Friday.

Robert Guenther
Robert Guenther
The United Fresh Produce Association said it favors a five-year bill because both the House and Senate farm bills contain “critical enhancements and reforms to key programs important to specialty crop producers.”

“We are concerned that a one-year extension falls short of that goal and hinders access to key programs for our producers directly related to research, value-added producer grants, and important programs that enhance domestic production,” said Robert Guenther, the United Fresh senior vice president for public policy.

“An extension of the current law would be a missed opportunity to enact federal agriculture policy that increases access for specialty crops and fosters competition for our industry both domestically and globally,” Guenther said.

Conservation leaders were particularly incensed because cuts to conservation programs would pay for most of the disaster aid.

“The industry supports enactment of comprehensive, balanced, long-term policy,” said a National Cotton Council spokeswoman said.

Representatives of the American Sugar Alliance and the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation and the National Chicken Council said those groups have no position on the extension.

Neither the American Bankers Association nor the Independent Community Bankers Association have taken a position on the extension bill, but Mark Scanlan of ICBA said, “Our ultimate desire would be a five- or six-year bill adopted this year.”

The Food and Research Action Center did not respond to a request for comment today, but has previously said it favored an extension if the bill did not cut food stamps, the supplemental nutrition assistance program known as SNAP.

Feeding America, a national chain of food banks, said, “We urge Congress to protect SNAP and to provide more food for emergency food providers, regardless of whether they enact a one-year extension of the farm bill or a five-year reauthorization.”

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities did not take a position.

“We would prefer to see the House and Senate work through a farm bill solution that reauthorizes the federal nutrition programs for five years and addresses some important issues in the programs,” the CBPP said.

“CBPP, however, does not take positions on the overall farm bill or the broader process for moving it. We typically focus on the specifics of title IV of the bill – which authorizes the federal nutrition programs on which we have expertise. From the perspective of Title IV, it is not clear to us that a one-year extension matters much one way or the other. While the programs expire along with the rest of the farm bill on September 30, they could continue to operate without interruption with an appropriation.”

The bill shifts funding for a number of rural development programs from mandatory to discretionary status, and stops the Agriculture Department from spending $77 million of the money set aside for to pay for the Pigford settlements that black farmers won in discrimination cases they filed against the USDA.

“Rural Coalition cannot support a farm bill extension that erases the gains we have struggled to make over many years to assure that USDA provides equitable opportunity and support to the farmers, communities and people who need it most, and builds for them a future in agriculture,” said Executive Director Lorette Picciano.

“I would hope leaders on the Ag committee reconsider the cuts to black farmers,” said National Black Farmers Association President John Boyd Jr.

“This is another example of how blacks have been treated in this country for ‘scores of years,’ Boyd said. “Here we are, nearly two years after president signed the bill, and the black farmers have yet to receive a one red cent of the settlement, and Congress wants to limit payments on justice.”

Only three groups told The Hagstrom Report they definitely favor the bill: the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and Bread for the World, and for each of those groups another in the same field is opposed.

One of the key elements in the bill would be aid to livestock producers, and an NCBA spokesman said, “We are for it.”

But the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, a competing group, took the opposite position.

“USCA supports a House effort that creates a pathway for a vote on the farm bill and leads to a joint House and Senate conference this session of Congress,” the group said. “Any delay or maneuver that falls short of this is a disservice to the U.S. ranchers and farmers that are experiencing historic drought and fire conditions.”

The extension bill does not contain the dairy reform package that the National Milk Producers Federation, which represents dairy farmers, has proposed and which the International Dairy Foods Association, which represents processors, has fought.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, a long-time critic of the dairy program, has been particularly critical of the supply management provision, which is in both the Senate-passed farm bill and the House Agriculture Committee-passed version.

Jerry Slominski

Jerry Slominski
Jerry Slominski, a senior vice president for legislative affairs at IDFA, spoke out against the measure.

“We believe that the full House of Representatives will reject the milk supply management policy that is included in the committee-passed version of the farm bill and that supporters of that controversial program are hoping to short circuit the regular process to avoid such a vote,” Slominski said.

“As such, we agree with Chairman Lucas that the best path forward is to approve the extension which will not only provide protection to producers but will allow the House to consider a farm bill under the regular order, to reject the controversial milk supply management program and to build consensus behind true reform for the dairy industry,” he said.

Jerry Kozak

Jerry Kozak
But National Milk today said it has “strong opposition” to an extension of the 2008 farm bill.

“The current safety net for dairy farmers is not sufficient in dealing with scenarios like we are currently facing from high feed costs associated with the ongoing drought,” said National Milk President and CEO Jerry Kozak.

“If we are going to be serious about providing better protection for the nation’s dairy farmers, while at the same time providing taxpayer savings from current programs, then we should pass a new farm bill which includes the Dairy Security Act.”

David Beckmann

David Beckmann
Bread for the World President David Beckmann praised the extension bill because it does not cut either international food aid or SNAP.

“We welcome Speaker Boehner’s proposal to protect nutrition and food aid programs in the disaster relief bill,” Beckmann said.

“Unlike other proposals we’ve seen from the House, this bill does not cut one dime from SNAP or international food aid,” he said. “Given the economic realities families are facing across the United States and around the world, protecting these programs is a must.”

“I would prefer a full reauthorization that maintains strong funding for SNAP and international food aid while making necessary reforms to our nation's food and farm policies,” added Beckmann. “Still, we are grateful for a proposal that maintains a circle of protection.”

But Oxfam America, another group interested in international food aid, said the extension “is actually worse than the status quo.”

“While it is reasonable to provide emergency assistance to those hit hard by recent extreme weather, it should not come at the expense of poor, hungry people,” said Eric Munoz, agriculture policy adviser for Oxfam America.

“The one-year bill does not reauthorize the pilot program created to purchase international food aid locally and regionally, giving up one of the most promising efforts to save more lives with food aid at lower cost to taxpayers,” Munoz said. “Moreover the bill maintains trade-distorting subsidies and invites costly new retaliatory actions by Brazil because of continued US WTO violations in the cotton subsidy program.”

But Munoz said he did not favor using the bill as a vehicle to get to conference with the Senate.

“Suggestions from some in Congress that a short-term extension should be used as a Trojan horse to bypass transparent and open consideration are irresponsible and undemocratic,” Munoz added. “Leaders in the House and Senate must not allow this bill to be jammed through a conference committee without adequate input from the American people and those elected to represent them.”

United Egg Producers Chairman David Lathem said any farm bill should include the Egg Products Inspection Act, which the extension bill does not. The bill sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., would establish national standards for the housing of egg-laying hens.

“We understand the need for quick action on a comprehensive farm bill, especially because of the severe drought, of which we are acutely aware since our farmer members purchase millions of bushels of corn, soybean and other crops to feed the nation’s 300 million egg-laying hens,” Lathem said.

“But equally critical to the survival of egg farmers is the amendment to the Egg Products Inspection Act. Congress should at least do something to help egg farmers when considering this farm bill by including the amendment to the Egg Products Inspection Act that we have asked for.”

Egg Farmers of America, which opposes the Feinstein amendment, does not have a position on an extension, said Tyson Redpath of the Russell Group, which represents the egg producers in Washington.

“We will continue our advocacy against the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments regardless,” Redpath said.

Farm, conservation groups issue statements

Following are some other statements on the proposal sent to The Hagstrom Report:

American Farm Bureau

Bob Stallman

Bob Stallman
American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said in a news release that the Republican-leaning Farm Bureau would oppose the extension because it would not secure a comprehensive, long-term farm bill.

“A one-year extension offers our farm and ranch families nothing in the way of long-term policy certainty,” said Stallman. “Farmers and ranchers always face decisions that carry very serious financial ramifications, such as planting a crop, buying land or building a herd, and we need clear and confident signals from our lawmakers.”

Stallman pointed out that the Senate-passed farm bill and the bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee already include disaster provisions for livestock farmers, and those measures would likely be included in any conference committee held for the long-term legislation.

Meanwhile, he said, the extension bill “does nothing to help hog or poultry producers, little to provide assistance to the dairy industry and nothing to aid fruit and vegetable producers who may not have crop insurance available to them as a risk management tool.”

“Both the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee have produced reform-minded, bipartisan bills that address many of the core principles we believe are important, such as strengthening crop insurance as a reliable risk management tool,” Stallman said.

“We are encouraging members of the House and their leaders to recognize the example set by both the Senate and House Agriculture Committee chairs and ranking members to forge fiscally responsible bipartisan legislation. An extension falls well short of that target.”

National Farmers Union

Roger Johnson

Roger Johnson
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said his group would support an extension only if is a step to a conference with the Senate to produce a comprehensive five-year farm bill before the 2008 farm bill expires on Sept. 30.

“An extension that ignores the goal of a five-year bill merely kicks the can down the road, as we are faced with uncertainty about next year’s budget,” Johnson said. “A one-year extension would also necessitate starting the farm bill drafting process over in the new Congress in January. House leadership needs to stop playing political games and show it values rural America, and pass a farm bill now.”

Johnson added that the conservation title is “one of the few titles that, since last December, most stakeholders have agreed on,” but that the “one-year extension cuts the one title that had the most agreement among all parties. It also cuts mandatory funding from vital beginning farmer and rancher, renewable energy and direct-to-consumer marketing programs.”

“As the drought wreaks havoc across the nation, our farmers and livestock producers are looking for relief and certainty,” Johnson continued.

“It is critical that permanent disaster programs be approved retroactively to cover losses incurred in 2012. Our farmers and ranchers are facing a rough harvest and barren pastures; further delays will have a huge impact on the U.S. agriculture industry. We commend the Senate Ag Committee, and the entire Senate, for taking swift action on the farm bill and now look to the House to follow suit. The clock is ticking, and this extension is just wasting time that could be spent on passing a bipartisan, forward-looking bill before the Sept. 30 deadline.”

American Soybean Association

Danny Murphy

Danny Murphy
The American Soybean Association would support the extension only if it would lead to a five-year bill, said First Vice President Danny Murphy, a Canton, Miss., farmer.

“The American Soybean Association believes that U.S. farmers and livestock producers need certainty in programs which help them manage risk in order to make decisions which will affect their operations over the long-term,” Murphy said. “This is particularly true today, with devastating drought conditions covering over half of the country.”

“A one-year extension of the 2008 farm bill, combined with short-term disaster assistance to livestock producers, will not provide the certainty that agriculture needs now,” he said. “We need a new five-year farm bill with long-term risk management and disaster assistance programs.”

“ASA understands that a one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill may be all that can pass the House before it adjourns this week,” Murphy said. “We support moving the farm bill process forward, so that a conference can be convened in September, when Congress returns. ASA supports a one-year extension provided there are assurances that a new five-year bill can be negotiated at that time.”

National Association of Wheat Growers

The National Association of Wheat Growers’ priority “continues to be achievement of a new, five-year farm bill before current law expires this fall,” a spokeswoman said.

“A short-term extension doesn’t give farmers the certainty that they need and would likely not incorporate reforms that have been essential to gaining support for new farm and food policy in both chambers.”

Conservation groups

Thirteen conservation groups sent a letter to Boehner expressing disapproval of the proposed farm bill extension.

The letter encouraged Boehner to “move forward on a full farm bill in the coming months —one that, among other things, does not damage the ability of the conservation title of the bill to continue its longstanding and successful partnership with America’s farmers and ranchers to protect our nation’s exceptional soil, water and wildlife resources.”

The letter was signed by American Farmland Trust, Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, Ducks Unlimited, Environmental Defense Fund, Land Trust Alliance, National Association of Conservation Districts, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, National Wildlife Federation, Pheasants Forever Quail Forever, The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

“The House’s extension bill makes deep and disproportionate cuts to the conservation title of the bill to offset emergency drought payments that have been added to the extension,” the groups said.

“The conservation title is 30 percent of the farm program spending baseline, excluding nutrition programs, and 7 percent of the farm bill overall, but sustains 75 percent of funding cuts in this bill — most of which are concentrated in the first two years. In fact, it is the conservation title programs that conserve soil and water to make farms and ranches more resilient to the impacts of droughts.”

Jon Scholl

Jon Scholl
American Farmland Trust President John Scholl said in a separate statement that his group is opposed to the extension and favors a five-year bill.

“We will vigorously oppose an extension of the current act that does not appropriately set the stage for final action on a new, comprehensive, multi-year farm bill to be enacted yet this year,” Scholl said. “We also oppose the disproportionate cuts to conservation programs as a means of funding disaster assistance.”

The Environmental Working Group said the extension and disaster aid bill would cost more than the Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP, and “doesn’t stand a chance in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

“So it is no surprise that some of the same agriculture committee leaders who backed the failed ‘secret farm bill’ gambit in the fall are now backing a new proposal to evade a floor vote by the full House and extend the current farm bill law for a year,” the EWG said.

EWG said the leaders want to use a one-year extension “as a pretense to negotiate a five-year farm bill with the Senate, which has already passed its version of the $1 trillion bill,” although Peterson has said he fears that Republican leaders don’t want to do that.