The Senate 2012 Farm Bill draft is still being negotiated, as leaders hope to gain approval to move forward with the bill very soon. More than 250 amendments have been filed for the bill to date, and Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow and Ag Committee Ranking Member Pat Roberts feel the pressure to find a way to process the amendments in a timely fashion.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid allowed Senators this week to begin debate on several controversial amendments, including on the sugar program, SNAP funding and conservation programs.
Meanwhile, agriculture, conservation and environmental groups have been keeping a close eye on the bill and its amendments, weighing in with their thoughts on each.
An amendment from Sen. Jim DeMint would convert all mandatory agricultural spending to discretionary spending subject to annual appropriations, which would have broad effects on crop insurance, conservation and food stamp programs.
An amendment from Sens. Tom Coburn and Dick Durbin threatens to weaken the crop insurance program by instituting the first-ever means test for participation through an adjusted gross income (AGI) limit.
A separate amendment, from Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Patrick Toomey would limit crop insurance subsidy premiums to $40,000 per producer, which would dramatically reduce the number of row crop acres covered under the crop insurance program.
Some ag groups wrote Senators Thursday opposing any amendment that will limit producers’ participation in crop insurance, including efforts to impose means testing and limit premium support, as well as those that threaten efficient and effective private sector delivery.
The groups said the proposed changes would threaten the program’s actuarial soundness and could render it ineffective as the primary safety net for most crop producers.
A separate amendment has been filed by Coburn to dramatically reduce funding and restrict activities under the Market Access Program (MAP), which is a farmer-government cost share program used by the wheat industry and other commodity groups to promote their products overseas.
A group of ag organizations also wrote Senators on Thursday to urge their opposition to any such amendment, noting that MAP supports U.S. ag exports, one of few areas of the economy that has shown growth in recent years. Studies show the program has repeatedly delivered strong returns on investment of up to 35 to 1.
The National Association of Wheat Growers is actively supporting an amendment, from Sens. Kay Hagan and Mike Crapo, to add the provisions of H.R. 872 to the Senate farm bill legislation. That amendment would clarify pesticide permitting requirements under the Clean Water Act, which were muddied by a 2009 Supreme Court ruling.
Two additional amendments that would directly and significantly affect the safety net portions of the Senate’s farm bill were filed late Thursday.
The first, from Sen. Kent Conrad, would continue the countercyclical program with updated pricing and payment structures, with offsets from modifying the T-yield used in crop insurance calculations as outlined in the farm bill draft passed by the Senate Agriculture Committee.
A second, from Conrad and Sen. Max Baucus, would limit the speed at which the price portion of the revenue calculation in the Senate bill’s Ag Risk Coverage (ARC) program could decline.