Wholesale changes to the farm safety net highlight the Senate’s Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012.
According to Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, the measure will save more than $25 billion dollars over the next five years. Released late last week, the legislation eliminates direct payments to farmers, consolidates duplicated conservation programs and cracks down on food assistance abuse.
While direct payments to farmers have been removed there is a safety net. The Senate version uses a so-called “shallow loss” program to cover poor yields or low prices while employing crop insurance to handle higher levels of crop damage.
The $500 billion measure - of which only 20 percent will be spent directly on agriculture - passed out of committee on a 16-5 vote. Southern State lawmakers made up the majority of the “no” votes. Members from Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas and Kentucky objected to the commodity title saying the bill did not treat crops like cotton, rice, and peanuts fairly.
The Bill also establishes eligibility requirements for the farm safety net. Only farmers with an adjusted gross income, or AGI, of $750,000 or lower will be able to take advantage of the program.
The American Farm Bureau Federation came out in support of the bill but raised a few objections. Farm Bureau officials felt the AGI cap was restrictive and lamented the lack of a catastrophic revenue loss program based on county level losses.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said the bill was well crafted but expressed concern over crop insurance provisions.
House Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas said the Senate measure will have trouble in the House. Lucas stated that because the safety net only protects a limited number of commodities he will work to make the measure more equitable.
The House is still conducting hearings as the amount of time to work on the legislation dwindles. Once both versions of the bill reach conference committee, lawmakers will have a few short months to hammer-out the details. The current Farm Bill expires at the end of September.