By Brittany Jablonsky, NFU government relations representative

Today the Senate Committee on Agriculture marked up its draft of the 2012 Farm Bill (entitled the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012) and passed the final version out of committee on a bipartisan 16-5 vote.

The manager’s amendment offered today incorporated a number of changes to the initial mark, many of which NFU supported. Some highlights included:

  • A temporary extension of the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program until July 1, 2013
  • A directive to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to study the impacts of the new dairy program created by the legislation
  • Raised Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) program payment factor for both the individual and county option
  • A temporary extension of the Supplemental Revenue Assistance (SURE) program to cover losses experienced in the 2012 crop year
  • A decrease in the Adjusted Gross Income limit for farm program payments from $900,000 to $750,000 and a strengthened definition of “actively engaged”
  • The inclusion of veterans in the socially disadvantaged set-aside for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and other conservation programs and in USDA’s outreach to socially disadvantaged farmers, as well as the establishment of a military veterans agricultural liaison position at USDA
  • Additional Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) funding
  • A directive to the USDA to review and streamline application forms for conservation and rural development programs
  • Funding for health care grants in the Delta region in the rural development title
  • Value-Added Producer Grant priority given to beginning farmers and ranchers and small/medium-sized producers
  • Increased funding for the Forest Stewardship Program to $50 million/year
  • Investigative powers given to the USDA to enforce the National Organic Program and the establishment of penalties for noncompliance
  • A directive to the USDA to write a report on the definition of honey
  • A change to the catastrophic coverage premium formula
  • Changes to the Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX) formula for cotton
  • Directive to the Risk Management Agency (RMA) to study establishing swine catastrophic disease insurance, a margin insurance product for catfish, and an index-based weather insurance pilot program
  • Reduction of crop insurance subsidy or Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance payment on broken native sod
  • One-time mandatory funding for the Sheep Production and Marketing Grant program of $1.5 million
  • Authorization for removal of Canada geese from National Park lands within five miles of an airport

Additionally, a number of senators offered amendments that were passed by the committee and will be included in the legislation that moves to the Senate floor. The full text of these amendments can be found on the Senate Agriculture Committee’s website and they include:

  • An amendment offered by Sens. Max Baucus (Baucus 8 and 12), Kent Conrad and John Hoeven making three changes to the individual program under ARC: 1) requiring the use of actual production history (APH) instead of a five-year Olympic average; 2) including a cost of production cap; and 3) increasing the payment factor to 65 percent
  • An amendment offered by Sen. Sherrod Brown (Brown 6) granting the Farm Service Agency the authority to conduct pilot projects to test different approaches that could improve farm loan program delivery and customer service
  • An amendment offered by Sens. Bob Casey (Casey 5), Kirsten Gillibrand and Brown that grants the USDA additional authority to direct emergency food to states with increased demand
  • An amendment offered by Sens. Conrad (Conrad 1), Lugar and a bipartisan group of senators that included many of the committee members that restored $800 million in mandatory funding for energy title programs
  • A sense of the committee offered by Sen. Gillibrand (Gillibrand 3) that states that no changes in nutrition programs made by the legislation should result in children receiving reduced benefits
  • An amendment offered by Sen. Mike Johanns (Johanns 4) that requires USDA to study the creation of an Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs to coordinate all of USDA’s international trade functions, currently overseen by several different USDA Under Secretaries
  • An amendment offered by Sen. Patrick Leahy (Leahy 5, modified by Sen. Pat Roberts’s amendment 2) to allow greater flexibility in the use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits with community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs

Members of the committee debated the following additional topics, but ultimately withdrew their amendments or stated their intentions to address them during future floor debate:

  • The “cash in advance” requirement when conducting trade with Cuba
  • Waiving eligible entity contribution requirements for certain agricultural land easements of special significance
  • Removing the direct SNAP certification option for recipients of heating assistance
  • Blocking the Department of Labor’s proposed child labor rules for agricultural workers
  • Applying savings in excess of $23 billion to increased funding for the rural development title
  • Adding support for local and regional food systems to the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program
  • Amendments to the H2A agricultural guest worker program
  • The use of Rural Energy for America Program funds for installing flex pumps
  • Clarification of the definition of “rural” as applied to the Rural Housing Act
  • Instituting a ban on packer ownership of livestock

Additional debate featured Southern senators, mainly John Boozman, Thad Cochran and Saxby Chambliss expressing their feelings that the draft legislation did not adequately meet the needs of cotton, rice and peanut farmers.

The full text of the initial legislation, the manager’s amendment, and all amendments offered can be found on the Senate Agriculture Committee’s website, and click here to read NFU’s press release on the markup. NFU is encouraging Senate leadership to move the bill quickly to the Senate floor for passage and pushing for the inclusion of the Market-Driven Inventory System (MDIS) as a way to address long-term market collapse.