The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


Farm groups unenthusiastic about disaster bill, conservationists opposed

The nation’s most powerful farm groups today threw cold water on the House Republican leadership’s agriculture disaster aid bill by issuing a joint news release that said while they will not oppose the measure, they are disappointed that the House has not taken up the five-year farm bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee.

The House leadership proposed the bill, scheduled for a vote Thursday, to provide drought relief for livestock and tree producers after a bill to extend most of the 2008 farm bill for one year and provide disaster aid within it failed to garner support.

“We do not oppose passage of a disaster assistance bill, but note that almost identical provisions to retroactively extend these four programs are included in the Senate-passed farm bill and the bill reported by the House Agriculture Committee,” the groups said.

“Those measures would likely be included in any conference committee report,” the letter said. “It is imperative that we pass a comprehensive, long-term farm bill. 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.”

The groups, led by the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union, (see list of signers below) provided a detailed critique of the disaster package.

“Assistance for cattle and sheep producers is very important and something that we strongly support in the five-year farm bill, but it is also important that assistance be provided for other types of livestock and for producers of fruits and vegetables,” the groups said.

“The disaster assistance bill does not help hog or poultry producers and only provides limited assistance via the grazing program for the dairy industry. The bill does not help dairy producers who are not located in a designated disaster county with grazing assistance and does not address high feed prices for dairy, hog or poultry producers.”

The groups also noted, “If the House simply passed the five-year farm bill reported out of committee on a bipartisan basis, this bill would not be necessary.”

The bill is expected to be considered on the suspension calendar, which would limit debate, forbid amendments and require a two-thirds vote. No time has been scheduled for the vote, but a key Republican aide said that members are putting pressure on the leadership to hold votes as early as possible in the day so that they get can get back to their districts for the August recess.

Even if the bill passes, there seems no possibility the Senate will act on it before both the House and Senate leave for the recess that will last until September 10.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Senate Agriculture ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., both expressed support for disaster aid today, but expressed concerns about the House bill. (See related story.)

Republican House leaders are bringing up the disaster aid bill partly because GOP members are expected to face intense questioning in August from farmers and ranchers about why they have not brought up a farm bill when the Senate has passed one, and why the leadership seems reluctant to bring to the floor a bill that the House Agriculture Committee has passed.

The farm bill was one of the items listed in a Politico analysis today of the Republican House performance.

“The new Republican majority came in with a roar, but it’s crawling into the August break with a whimper,” the article said.

It also included the following paragraph about House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla.:

“There will be a farm bill, and I’ve worked very hard to remind everybody in this chamber about that,” Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma said when asked if his leadership team is supportive of negotiating on a farm bill this Congress. “It’s just when will it happen. And I’m encouraging everyone on both sides of the room that sooner is better than later.”

The House bill would reauthorize four disaster aid programs: Livestock Indemnity Payments (LIP), Livestock Forage Disaster Programs (LFP), Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-raised Fish (ELAP), and the Tree Assistance Program (TAP).

But the bill would provide no specific aid to fruit growers, a key goal of Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., whose growers, cherry producers particularly, have experienced both a freeze and a drought.

The bill authorizes disaster assistance for 2012 only, and provides for payments totaling $383 million, a House Agriculture Committee spokeswoman said. The money would come from cuts to the environmental quality incentives program known as EQIP and from the conservation stewardship program known as CSP. Those programs would be cut by a total of $639 million over 10 years ($350 million from EQIP, $289 million from CSP), with $256 million going to deficit reduction.

House leaders hope that including deficit reduction will be enough to convince fiscal conservatives to fight for the disaster aid, but there is no guarantee the bill will pass.

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said Tuesday he was undecided about whether to support the measure because he is “not wild” about the conservation offsets, and today his office said he still has not made up his mind.

A coalition of conservation and hunting and fishing groups said in a news release today that the bill “does not meet the test of basic fairness.”

“While we all strongly support providing disaster relief to those suffering this terrible drought, we cannot support a bill that would make the impacts of future drought more severe by cutting the very programs that help build disaster resiliency into farming operations,” the groups said.

They also urged that “funding for the drought assistance be allocated in an equitable and fair way. Using disproportionate cuts to conservation to fund disaster assistance undermines the successful conservation programs that are currently being utilized.” (See list of signers below).

In a separate statement, the Environmental Working Group said it would oppose the drought disaster package because it would be paid for with cuts to conservation programs.

“It is time for Congress to stop using conservation programs as an ATM for other priorities,” EWG Vice President Scott Faber said in a news release.

“At a moment when tens of millions of acres are being converted into cropland to meet a misguided corn ethanol mandate, cuts to the programs meant to blunt agriculture’s impact on the landscape result in an environmental double-whammy, undermining efforts to protect source water and protect wildlife,” Faber said.

“The worst aspect of the House proposal is that it ignores the most logical source for money to pay for necessary disaster relief: the discredited and wasteful direct payment program that both the Senate and House agriculture committees have voted to discontinue,” he said.

The farm group letter was signed by the following:
  • American Farm Bureau Federation
  • American Soybean Association
  • National Association of Wheat Growers
  • National Barley Growers Association
  • National Corn Growers Association
  • National Farmers Union
  • National Milk Producers Federation
  • National Sunflower Association
  • United Fresh Produce Association
  • U.S. Canola Association
  • USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council
  • Western Growers

The conservation group letter was signed by:
  • American Farmland Trust
  • Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies
  • Chesapeake Bay Foundation
  • Ducks Unlimited
  • Izaak Walton League of America
  • Land Trust Alliance
  • National Association of Conservation Districts
  • National Association of Clean Water Agencies
  • National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
  • National Wildlife Federation
  • Pheasants Forever
  • Quail Forever
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
  • Trout Unlimited
  • Water Environment Federation