Farm bill clears House

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With the Agriculture Act of 2014, the Farm Bill, headed to the Senate for final consideration, the 950-page bill is, as expected, drawing mixed reaction among lawmakers and agricultural industry stakeholders. The House passed the conference report by a margin of 251-166, and it is expected the Senate will soon pass the legislation and that President Obama will sign it into law.

Congress After working through contentious policy issues ranging from commodity subsidy programs, nutrition assistance and dairy programs, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said the final product fulfills expectations set by the American people. Agricultural organizations from the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union, and many commodity specific trade organizations were also quick to praise the House passage of the bill.

“They expect us to work together to find ways to reduce the cost of the federal government,” said Lucas. “The Agricultural Act contributes major savings to deficit reduction, significant reforms to policy, and yet still provides a safety net not only for the production of American food and fiber, but also to ensure our fellow citizens have enough food to eat.”

According to a news release from Lucas’ office, the bill achieves reforms in the following areas:

  • Repeals Direct Payments and limits producers to risk management tools that offer protection when they suffer significant losses. 
  • Strengthens crop insurance, a successful public/private partnership that ensures farmers invest in their own risk management.
  • Provides historic reforms to dairy policy by repealing outdated and ineffective dairy programs.  Offers producers a new, voluntary, margin protection program without imposing government-mandated supply controls.
  • Establishes a 10-state food stamp pilot to empower states to engage able-bodied adults in mandatory work programs.
  • Ensures illegal immigrants, lottery winners, traditional college students, and the deceased do not receive food stamp benefits.
  • Consolidates 23 duplicative and overlapping conservation programs into 13.
  • Creates a permanent subcommittee within the EPA Science Advisory Board to conduct peer review of EPA actions that would negatively impact agriculture.
  • Enhances coordination between USDA and the U.S. FWS regarding actions taken to manage the lesser prairie chicken.

Not everyone on the Farm Bill Conference Committee was as positive at Chairman Lucas. Kansas Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) was the only conference committee member who did not sign the report and announced he would oppose the bill on the Senate floor. Roberts’ opposition to the Farm Bill stemmed from opposition to the Price Loss Coverage program, the final outcome of the nutrition title, namely the food stamp portion of the legislation, lack of regulatory reform, specifically lack of resolution to issues surrounding mandatory Country-of-Origin-Labeling and USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration’s livestock marketing regulations that originated in the previous Farm Bill.

“Despite years of work in both committees and strong provisions in the House passed Farm Bill – the final legislation lacks key, common sense, and sound science regulatory reforms,” Roberts said. “I am more than disappointed that a WTO-compliant resolution to mandatory Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) was not reached. Our livestock producers were already facing drought and high feed prices, but now they will have to worry over retaliatory actions by the governments of Canada and Mexico.

“While we all want to provide certainty to producers, the conference has missed an opportunity for greater and necessary reforms to our nation’s farm programs, federal nutrition programs, and burdensome regulations.”

Livestock groups, including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, American Meat Institute and National Pork Producers Association and National Chicken Council opposed the bill because it failed to resolve issues related to COOL and GIPSA.

“We are disappointed in all members of Congress and especially the members of the Conference Committee for allowing this process to go this far without a solution. Failure to fix MCOOL at this juncture will lead to retaliatory tariffs on a host of commodities and it is only a matter of time before the World Trade Organization rules in favor of Canada and Mexico. Once that happens, producers will realize the full costs of this failed legislation,” said Scott George, NCBA president and Wyoming beef producer. “This farm bill is foundationally flawed and the livestock sector is standing shoulder-to-shoulder in opposition of a farm bill that will only serve to cause greater harm to rural America.”

The Senate could consider the bill as early as next week. If it is passed, it will head to the President’s desk for his signature. 

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