Tuesday, November 15, 2011

House, Senate Begin Farm Bill Negotiations

By John Thompson

U.S. House and Senate conferees are working on a new Farm Bill that would cut $23 billion over ten years to submit to a super committee charged with overall deficit reduction.

With regard to agriculture cuts, areas under consideration include cutting commodity programs by $15 billion, food stamps by $4 billion and conservation programs by $4 billion. Both House and Senate measures call for massive cuts of up to $1 billion to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). The House bill also includes a provision prohibiting the rulemaking process of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Act (GIPSA), while the Senate bill eliminates direct payments to farms with an average adjusted gross income in excess of $1 million.

The budget control act of 2011, passed in August, increased the debt ceiling by $400 billion and requires the federal government to make $917 billion in spending cuts over a ten year period as a first installment. It also created the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction tabbed the “Supercommittee” and charged it with presenting a spending cut package to Congress by November 23. Congress then has until December 23 to act on the plan. If they fail to reach the designated timetable, $1.2 trillion will automatically be cut from discretionary defense and nondefense spending through 2021.

The Supercommittee is charged with finding $1.5 trillion in overall cuts by November 23, which may include: revenue increases, including raising taxes; tax reforms, such as simplifying the tax code and eliminating some tax breaks and loopholes; military spending cuts; and measures to reform and slow the growth of entitlement programs, including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

If cuts to the CSP program come to fruition, the effect will be felt here in Idaho. Last year the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) funded 202 CSP contracts covering 351,000 acres of forest, crop and pasture land. The program paid out $4 million. Under present rules, CSP payments are capped at $40,000 per year with a total of $200,000 maximum over the five-year contract.

Regarding the House proposal to prohibit GIPSA rulemaking to commence, Wyatt Prescott, executive vice president of the Idaho Cattle Association, said his organization has been working hard to change the Act, making it less burdensome. Prescott said a lot could change over the next few weeks but presently the proposed changes to GIPSA are not acceptable. ICA is opposed to funding the GIPSA rulemaking process.

The American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union support moving ahead with GIPSA rulemaking and allowing USDA to act on more than a year’s worth of collecting public comment and studying ways to improve livestock marketing and limiting packer control of livestock.

Prescott said ICA is also concerned about potential cuts to conservation programs, mainly to funding of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). “We want to make sure we maintain the 60/40 livestock split that enables ranchers to be better stewards and to share those costs,” he said. ICA is also watching for any changes in dairy policy that could give dairy producers a competitive advantage in the marketplace with regard to purchasing feed, Prescott added.

AFBF has taken positions on a handful of other measures under consideration. AFBF opposes a provision in the Senate bill regarding the use of funds to provide direct payments to persons or legal entities with an average adjusted gross income (AGI) in excess of $1,000,000. AFBF opposes a provision in the House bill that prevents appropriated funds from being used to provide payments to the Brazil Cotton Institute. AFBF supports the broadband program provision in the House passed bill and the Senate provision that adds $100 million to the Emergency Conservation Program and Watershed Protection Program for expenses resulting from a major disaster designation under the Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.

Farm Bureau also supports the Senate provision that would allow the U.S. Trade Representative to hire additional counsels for trade enforcement activities, such as filing WTO cases and other trade disputes, and negotiating with our trade partners to eliminate unfair market access restrictions.

Further, Farm Bureau supports the Senate provision that prevents any funds from being used to set maximum limits on the frequency of serving vegetables in school meal programs and opposes the House provision which precludes USDA from providing fee-for-service inspection of horse processing facilities.

The Agriculture Appropriations Bill provides funding for a wide array of federal agricultural programs, mostly within USDA. These programs include: agricultural research; education and extension activities; natural resources conservation programs; food safety, marketing and inspection activities; rural economic and community development activities; telecommunications and electrification assistance; and various export and international activities of the USDA.

No comments:

Idaho grower featured in Smithsonian 'Precision Farming' exhibit

By Sean Ellis Idaho Farm Bureau Federation POCATELLO – Robert Blair’s North Idaho farm is one of four farming operations around t...