No New Farm Bill in 2013

No New Farm Bill in 2013

There will be no new farm bill passed by the end of 2013, according to House and Senate negotiators. The Agriculture Committee members said they cannot proceed with a new bill until they receive the budget scores from the Congressional Budget office, and because one of the two people responsible for the scores was stuck in New Jersey over the weekend from bad weather, the scores aren’t in.

Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said, “We got a problem. We thought we were going to have a CBO score Monday morning. Turns out, there’s two guys that do [these scores]. One of them has his work done, the other went to a wedding in northern New Jersey over the weekend and got stuck, and is still not back.”

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) echoed, “The person doing the scoring is stuck in another state … we are literally waiting on scores right now that affects our timing. We will be ready to vote in January.”

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) stated he was going to file a bill on Tuesday that would give the expired 2008 farm bill an extension. He said, “We’ll see how we progress over the next few days, what the CBO scores are, hopefully that won’t be necessary. It is my intention is to have a vehicle before the House goes home on Friday in case there are unforeseen circumstances.”

Stabenow and Peterson agreed they don’t want an extension, because an extension would reinstate milk regulations that would drive milk prices higher. Stabenow added that another problem would be the direct farm payments that were supposed to be cut in a new bill. She said, “I am confident talking to the secretary of Agriculture just a little while ago that there will be no impacts on dairy in January. We won’t be passing an extension.” 

The Senate and the House have been battling over food stamp cuts which would be attached to the farm bill; the Democratic Senate only wanted to cut 44 billion, while the GOP House wants to cut $39 billion. If the number ends closer to the Senate’s calculus, the quid pro quo would be for the bill to give more price supports to producers in the form of price-based protection and revenue-based insurance.

Both the House and Senate are arguing with farmers over safety-net payments; Congress wants to stop the $5 billion direct Agriculture Department payments that are paid to farmers no matter what their economic situation is. Congress is determined to limit the total noninsurance payments to farmers at $125,000 per year, or double that amount if the farmer is married, and even more significantly, limit the number of managers for a farm to one, as the managers receive subsidies.

Farm groups such as USA Rice Federation and the Southwest Council of Agribusiness feel that farms often need more managers. Tom Sell, a Washington consultant for the Southwest Council of Agribusiness, said “There are a lot of different aspects to managing a farm, many of which involve personal labor but many that don’t. You can’t say all farms everywhere just need one person to manage them.” He was joined by John Owen, a Louisiana rice farmer and chairman of the USA Rice Federation’s producers’ group, who asserted, “You need a program with pay limits that are high enough so that if you need the safety net, it’s large enough to catch you. Those dollars that are spent have tremendous returns on the investment. They multiply through our rural economy.”

But Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), a farmer himself, said, “I don’t know how it can be a subject of debate. It should have a do-not-touch stamp on it.” Stabenow agreed, saying, “Reforms like payment limits and making sure that only people who are actively engaged in farming get farm payments are about as common sense as it gets.”

Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, summed up the situation: “It’s rare that anything is so clearly fraud and abuse of the system. The people have spoken and the results are in.”

More than $170 million was paid last year to groups saying they were comprised of “active personal management only.”