Senate Ag Committee Completes 2012 Farm Bill Mark-Up

April 26, 2012 Bookmark and Share

The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry approved its version of the 2012 Farm Bill in a 16 to five vote Thursday afternoon.

The bill, formally known as the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act, will now move to the Senate floor for debate, which has reportedly been promised by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), likely within the next few weeks.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scored the manager’s amendment offered at the outset of the mark-up as saving $24.7 billion over 10 years.

That version of the bill replaced the existing direct and counter cyclical, ACRE and SURE programs with an enhanced crop insurance package supplemented by a new Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program to partially offset revenue losses between 89 percent and 79 percent of benchmark revenue. The existing non-recourse marketing loan program was maintained.

An amendment from Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) restored a streamlined definition of “benchmark revenue” as included in the chairwoman’s original mark, released on Friday. This means the ARC program’s benchmark revenue would be based on the five-year Olympic average of individual yield or county yield times the five-year Olympic average of the five-month national average market price received by producers.

Program payments would be paid on a capped planted acres level, 65 percent for those opting for individual farm coverage, and 85 percent for those opting for county-level coverage. With either option, payments would be made based on 45 percent of acres in instances where weather prevents planting.

The manager’s amendment also created a special rule for rice and peanut prices; reduced the adjusted gross income (AGI) cap to $750,000; redefined what qualifies a producer as “actively engaged”; and reauthorized the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative (USWBSI).

A substitute energy title, proposed by Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), was adopted at the mark-up. It would convert existing and new energy program monies from discretionary funds, which must be allocated each year, to mandatory funds. Funding for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), which helps producers seeking to provide feedstock for cellulosic ethanol, was increased to $38 million in each fiscal year, for a total of $152 million over the life of the farm bill.

Numerous amendments were introduced and withdrawn at Thursday’s mark-up, including one from Baucus to clarify payment terms for sales to Cuba; one from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) allocating money within USDA for “classical” breeding; and one from Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) to allow changes to immigration policy related to farm workers.

The mark-up was originally scheduled for Wednesday but delayed following concerns from Members related to the farm safety net revisions outlined in the original mark from Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.).

NAWG and more than 75 other groups wrote agriculture leaders this week urging the mark-up to proceed so the bill can move relatively quickly toward floor consideration before Memorial Day recess.

Five Senators ultimately declined to support the bill, including Chambliss; Gillibrand; Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.); Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.); and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who voted by proxy.

NAWG will continue to work with Senators as they negotiate any changes to the bill, as well as with House leaders as they finalize that chamber’s draft of the 2012 Farm Bill legislation