The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


Reaction pro and con to House Agriculture farm bill


Reaction to the proposed House Agriculture Committee farm bill that would reduce food stamps more than the Senate-passed bill and include a target price program not in the Senate bill is following predictable ideological and regional lines, although some farm groups did not issue immediate reactions to the draft bill’s release late Thursday.

The bill would achieve $35 billion in budget savings over 10 years compared to the $23.6 billion in savings in the Senate bill by cutting $16 billion more over 10 years from the food stamp program. It gives farmers a choice between the “shallow loss” revenue coverage in the Senate bill and price loss coverage triggered by target prices that are as much as 40 percent higher than under the 2008 farm bill.

The House Agriculture Committee proposal stays within the budget by reducing the benefits under the Senate revenue proposal.

The target prices are mostly the same as those that were in the proposal that the House and Senate agriculture committees sent to the supercommittee on deficit reduction in December. But the target prices for barley, minor oilseeds and pulse crops are higher, a House aide said, because lobbyists for those groups feared they would not be able to compete with other crops and because House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., made sure they were protected.

Jim Weill
Jim Weill
The Food Research Action Center was highly critical of the cuts in the food stamp program now formally known as the supplemental nutrition assistance program or SNAP.

"These are real cuts with real consequences for seniors and working poor Americans – they will mean lost meals for hungry households,” said FRAC President Jim Weill.

“By undermining ‘Cat El’ state options, the House proposal would cut nearly two million people from SNAP and undermine access to free school meals for 280,000 low-income children,” he said. “The House cut to ‘heat and eat’ policy would mean that an additional 500,000 SNAP households would lose $90 a month in SNAP food benefits.”

“These cuts are at odds with every bipartisan deficit proposal discussed over the past year, including the Budget Control Act which protected SNAP from cuts,” Weill added.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities issued a report that the bill “would throw 2 to 3 million people” off food stamps.

The Southwest Council of Agribusiness, which includes 17 farm organizations, 32 lenders, and 71 businesses in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas, issued an enthusiastic endorsement of the bill. The council, which is based in Lubbock, Texas, is represented in Washington by Combest-Sell, the consulting firm headed by former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest, R-Texas, and his top aide, Tom Sell.

“I write to strongly endorse the bipartisan farm bill that you have developed,” Southwest Council President Dee Vaughan wrote in a letter to House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

“Because they work to meet the risk management needs of all producers, crops, and regions, the two options offered to producers show respect for the diversity of the private sector and strive to achieve the fundamental purpose of a commodity title which is to address prolonged periods of low prices, the one risk that crop insurance is not designed to cover,” Vaughan wrote.

He said the legislation “works to minimize any interaction with or duplication of federal crop insurance” and would give producers concerned about multiple year price declines the option of a program that would protect them against that.

“While we oppose arbitrary means testing and pay limits, we believe the reduced AGI [adjusted gross income] level and the pay limits contained in the House farm bill should be workable and we certainly appreciate the bill not reopening actively engaged rules that allow farm families to share risk,” Vaughan said.

“The committee also rightly rejected the extremely bad ideas of tying AGI rules and pay limits to crop insurance and adding duplicative regulations on farmers by linking crop insurance to conservation compliance. The AGI and payment limit amendments offered in the Senate especially illustrate the alarming disconnect between Washington’s concept of America’s family farms and American family farms as they actually exist today.”

Vaughan also said the group appreciated the inclusion of the crop insurance supplemental coverage option first proposed by Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, and the bill’s efforts “to undo some of the damage caused by the last standard reinsurance agreement and prevent further damage under future agreements.”

The Southwest Council also endorsed the sugar, dairy and cotton titles of the bill.

The Southern Peanut Farmers Federation, which represents 80 percent of U.S. peanut production, said it "is very pleased with the discussion draft released by the House Agriculture Committee leadership."

The group said that Lucas and Peterson had written a bill that addresses budget concerns, while writing a bill that is “balanced for all regions of the nation and for all commodities.”
Chuck Coley
Chuck Coley
The National Cotton Council praised the bill and urged the House Agriculture Committee to pass it “as introduced.”

“While we continue to oppose limitations on benefits and income eligibility tests, regrettably such restrictions are an inevitable feature of farm legislation,” NCC Chairman Chuck Coley said. “We are encouraged that the Committee leaders are extending current policy of not placing limits on marketing loan benefits or any restrictions on the availability of insurance products.”

The Cotton Warehouse Association also endorsed the House bill.

“While very few members of the CWAA rely on the policies authorized in a farm bill, our warehouses and the thousands of American workers that we employ depend on a healthy U.S. cotton industry which, in turn, relies on sound U.S. cotton policy,” the group said.

Roger Johnson
Roger Johnson
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said his group is pleased the bill is moving forward and that the discussion draft “contains provisions to address a long-term market collapse — a very critical part of any safety net,” but is concerned about the food stamp cut and the energy title.

“The $35 billion in cuts are deeply disproportionate and far larger than agriculture should have to bear, given its share of the federal budget,” Johnson wrote. “The nutrition title in particular takes a big hit. In these economically difficult times, millions of Americans depend on nutrition programs to put food on the table, and now is simply not the time to be making deep cuts to these programs.”

Johnson added that NFU is pleased that the bill reauthorizes the energy title, but concerned that it contains no mandatory funding for it.

The USA Rice Federation endorsed the House farm bill, and said it “looks forward to helping move a comprehensive farm bill forward this year so that producers have an effective farm policy in place for the next crop year.”

The rice federation said a one-size-fits-all approach to farm policy is not workable for all producers and regions.

“Instead, the House bill takes the positive step of acknowledging the diverse agriculture sector by offering a meaningful choice of risk management tools for all producers, crops, and regions of the country while working to ensure that the choices offered to producers focus on addressing serious and sustained periods of losses,” the rice group said.

“The House farm bill’s price loss coverage and revenue loss coverage options allow producers to focus risk management on the primary risk for their crops and region. USA Rice supports efforts to ensure that both the price loss and revenue loss coverage trigger levels are set at the highest possible levels to provide effective protection against price and revenue declines.”

Three crop insurance groups signaled they were happier with the House bill than the Senate bill, but not completely satisfied.

"While we are disappointed that the SRA-imposed cap on administrative and operating expense reimbursement and the covenant not to sue were not lifted, we understand this is due to the cost assigned by the Congressional Budget Office," the groups said in a letter of the House Agriculture Committee leaders.

"As a result, we understand that unprecedented caps on agent compensation were also left unaddressed. In regard to these issues, we strongly urge you to admonish [the Agriculture Department] as to the importance of abiding by the law and respecting private contracts when promulgating regulations to carry out the Federal Crop Insurance Act."

Steve WellmanSteve Wellman
The American Soybean Association, which strongly supported the Senate shallow loss proposal, was vague in its reaction to the House proposal.

"With regard to commodity policy, the House proposal would offer farmers a choice between two commodity programs: a target-price program or a revenue-based program, said ASA President Steve Wellman.

“A key priority for ASA throughout the farm bill deliberations has been to ensure that commodity policies do not distort farmers' planting decisions,” Wellman said, “and we look forward to working with the House to ensure that soybeans are treated equitably and that planting decisions would not be distorted by farm programs offered under the House bill.”

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said it is pleased that the process has moved forward but is “very disappointed with the draft starting point.”

Declaring the House bill to be anything but a reform bill, NSAC, which represents smaller, environmentally-oriented farmers, faulted the bill for the absence of caps or targeting of crop insurance subsidies and payment limitations on commodity subscribes.

NSAC also said the proposal would reduce acreage enrollment for the Conservation Stewardship Program “by a whopping 30 percent at a time when record numbers of farmers are enrolling acres into the program to address mounting production, climate, and water pressures.”

It also said the bill would limit subsidy restrictions to protect native grasslands to just one region of the country, cut in half funding for beginning farmers and minority farmers, and would eliminate funding to assist organic farmers with the costs of complying with regulations.

NSAC also noted that the bill would cut funding for job-creating rural economic development programs by 88 percent when compared to the average funding levels of the past three farm bills.

The National Corn Growers Association, which strongly backed the Senate commodity title, said it was pleased the House Agriculture Committee was moving forward but did not comment on the content of the bill.

“Our board is assessing similarities and differences between the legislation and our grower-developed policy,” the group said. “NCGA continues to call on Congress to pass a new farm bill this year.”

But the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, which is represented by Combest-Sell, said that it supports the House inclusion of the target price option.

An American Farm Bureau Federation source said that the Farm Bureau board planned to meet today to discuss the House proposal.

Oxfam, the international charity, said the bill “continues the tradition of pork-laden corporate boondoggles substituting for sensible agriculture policy,” but emphasized its disappointment that the bill does not include changes to international food aid programs that were included in the Senate bill.

“As more than 18 million people face a hunger crisis in West Africa and hundreds of millions more people struggle to get enough to eat, Congress should step up with legislation that is in the interest of hungry people at home and abroad,” Oxfam said.

The Environmental Working Group said it was disappointed that the draft would “expand unlimited crop insurance subsidies and to create new budget-busting farm revenue and price guarantees” while cutting nutrition and conservation programs.

“The committee’s leaders have proposed to plow much of the savings generated from the elimination of direct payments into new entitlements for the largest and most successful farm businesses,” EWG said. “We urge Congress to reject these proposed cuts to anti-hunger and conservation programs, to oppose new farm revenue and price guarantees, and to instead support reasonable reforms to unlimited crop insurance subsidies and efforts to promote healthier diets.”