Grassroots reaction to the House Agriculture Committee-passed 2013 farm bill is mostly positive, but some environmental groups express displeasure at what they perceive is too little attention to conservation efforts and too much consideration for large-scale farm operations.
“We are pleased both the Senate and House Ag Committees passed their versions of the farm bill out of committee this week,” said David Gibson, executive vice president, Corn Producers Association of Texas. “As a whole, the Senate committee’s bill is improved from 2012, now offering some level of protection for price losses. CPAT is encouraged that both committees included reference price programs in their legislation.
“It’s good for our farmers that both committees left crop insurance intact,” Gibson said. “However, we are disappointed in the Senate committee’s inclusion of conservation compliance with crop insurance, as it’s a duplication of requirements already outlined for the farm programs and has the potential to lead to further regulation.”
The House version has an advantage over the Senate bill, Gibson notes. “Overall, the House committee’s bill offers a better price loss coverage for our producers, as was shown through the Texas A&M University’s Agricultural and Food Policy Center’s analysis. We are hopeful the reference prices included in this bill are at least maintained. Our farmers would benefit as a whole if the final legislation closely resembles what was passed from the House committee.”
The National Cotton Council also applauded the efforts of both committees and vows to encourage Cotton Belt Representatives to support their agriculture committee’s work and oppose damaging amendments when the legislation is considered by the full House, which likely will occur in June.
The House Agriculture Committee’s bill, which was approved by a strong, bipartisan vote of 36-10, saves nearly $40 billion in mandatory funds.
NCC Chairman Jimmy Dodson, a Robstown, Texas, producer, said, “We commend the House Agriculture Committee leaders and Committee members for moving this important legislation to the next step. We urge the House leaders to promptly schedule time for the House to consider and pass this legislation. Our nation needs sound, long-term farm policy that has a balanced safety net for all commodities and regions while facilitating market-driven cropping and marketing decisions.”
The NCC also is pleased that the Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX) and transition payments to assist growers and their lenders until STAX can be fully implementedwere retained in the bill. NCC says STAX provides more certainty to growers and provides the basis for resolution of the longstanding Brazil WTO case.
Dodson also noted the importance of provisions to assist U.S. textile manufacturers, extending the marketing loan and adjusted world price redemption process, maintaining reasonable limitations and eligibility requirements, extending the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development Program, which provide seed money for important promotion programs, and extending the extra-long staple cotton program.
“The leaders of the National Association of Wheat Growers and the farmers we represent across the country are excited and grateful for the House and Senate Agriculture Committees’ passage of farm bill legislation over the last two days,” said National Association of Wheat Growers President Bing Von Bergen. “This farm bill has been a long time coming.
“Our top legislative priority is completing a long-term farm bill this year, and we stand ready to assist in their efforts to reach this goal."
“The American Soybean Association is very pleased that the farm bill is moving forward,” said ASA President Danny Murphy, a soybean farmer from Canton, Miss. “The House bill contains several key ASA priorities including provisions to strengthen crop insurance and continue our overseas marketing programs.
“We remain concerned with the bill’s inclusion of a price-based program under which payments are tied to current plantings, and the potential planting distortions this program could cause if market prices fall.” He noted. “That said, we believe these differences can be ironed out, either on the House floor or in conference with the Senate.”
The National Sorghum Producers pledged continuing support “to work with lawmakers as the legislation moves to the floor of both chambers. We are pleased to see that both versions prioritize crop insurance, include a price protection component, and offer farmers a choice of policies.”
NSP also said it prefers the “elevated protection offered by the House through Price Loss Coverage, as well as the exclusion of conservation compliance being tied to crop insurance. But, regardless of preferences, now is the time for all commodities and regions and interest groups to circle the wagons and promote both good bills on the House and Senate floors where opponents will be offering bad amendments aimed at dividing us.”
The National Milk Producers Federation is also pleased with the House bill, especially for support of the Dairy Security Act.
“The DSA provides the best combination of effective risk management for dairy farmers, while minimizing farm program costs to the taxpayer,” said Jerry Kozak, the Federation’s president and CEO.
“Dairy farmers have labored for four years to develop the reforms contained in the DSA. We have worked with leaders of both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees to construct a new safety net that offers dairy farmers more effective protection than current policy.
“The dairy industry needs the stability that the DSA will provide, and we need it now. The House version of the bill is on the right path, and its dairy title now matches the farm bill approved Tuesday by the Senate Agriculture Committee. We urge Congress to move quickly to complete action on the farm bill this summer.”
Steve Pringle, Legislative Director, Texas Farm Bureau says, “Farm Bureau supports both bills and we think a conference committee can produce something very workable from both. We think the House version is somewhat better since the income support levels are higher.”
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition sees some positive aspects of the House farm bill but expressed disappointment with many proposals that are being embraced by commodity groups.
The bill, according to a coalition release, includes a variety of major priorities of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition , along with several serious setbacks for farmers, natural resource conservation, and rural development.
The good, the statement reports, includes restored funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative. It also restores and increases funding for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program. All three programs received more funding in the new House bill than in the bill reported by the Senate Agriculture Committee.
NSAC also praises the Farm to School pilot projects for school districts in the USDA Foods and the Department of Defense “Fresh” programs. NSAC also likes the Whole Farm Diversified Risk Management insurance program for farms growing a diversity of crops and livestock, included in both bills. The bill includes a variety of other provisions based on the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act  and the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act .
In other areas, said Ferd Hoefner, NSAC policy director, “the bill is a major disappointment. The bill includes no major reforms beyond the preordained elimination of direct payments. “There is little farm program reform in the Agriculture Reform bill. It reinvests most of the savings from direct payments back into new commodity and crop insurance subsidies. It increases the per farm commodity subsidy limitation by 92 percent and leaves in place current loopholes that allow individual farms to collect unlimited payments. It places no caps whatsoever on farm insurance subsidies. We intend to see that these failings get a second review when the bill heads to the House floor.”
The National Wildlife Federation also expressed disappointment. “Julie Sibbing , director of Agriculture and Forestry Programs, for NWF said, “While we appreciate the difficult task of drafting a bill to achieve deficit reductions, the committee missed important opportunities to save taxpayer dollars through commonsense conservation measures for soil, water and wildlife.”
NWF also objects to exclusion of the provision included in the Senate committee bill  that would link soil and wetlands protection to crop insurance premium subsidies.”
That provision is roundly criticized by commodity organizations.
“We are very disappointed that Chairman Lucas chose to leave out this important provision supported by a broad coalition of conservation, agricultural and crop insurance interests,” Sibbing said.
She said the House bill included “a weak, geographically limited version of Sodsaver, which protects native grasslands by limiting federal subsidies for producers who convert previously unplowed prairie lands. The House version of Sodsaver is unfairly limited to parts of five states in the Northern Great Plains.
Other attempts to improve the farm bill for wildlife were also suppressed, she said, including maintaining adequate investments for wildlife practices within the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
NWF recommends improvements when the House version comes up for a full floor vote, including:
- Sensible requirements for farmers to refrain from draining wetlands and practice conservation on highly erodible land in exchange for taxpayer subsidies,
- A national Sodsaver provision to protect native prairies, and
- Adequate levels of funding to help farmers and ranchers protect wildlife.