Agriculture leaders in Congress vigorously asserted this week their intentions to pursue a 2013 Farm Bill, though formal work in committee is unlikely to start before spring.
A placeholder bill for a to-be-negotiated Senate farm bill was one of 10 dropped by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) this week in a symbolic move meant to show Senate leaders’ priorities. He also mentioned the measure on the floor of the Senate, which drew praise from Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).
“I applaud Sen. Reid’s leadership and commitment to getting a five-year farm bill done to provide certainty to the 16 million Americans working in agriculture,” Stabenow said in a written statement, noting the $23 billion in savings achieved in the farm bill passed by the Senate during the 112th Congress.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) similarly expressed his commitment to a long-term bill, saying in a statement that, “As we renew efforts to complete a five-year comprehensive farm bill, I pledge to work with the Secretary [of Agriculture], my House and Senate colleagues, and all interested parties to advance a fiscally responsible, reform-minded, and balanced farm bill this year.”
House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) also hit an optimistic note at an organizational hearing for the Committee, held Wednesday. He told the audience he had talked with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) about the process for moving a farm bill forward and was hopeful they could come to an agreement.
Peterson has been a vocal critic of the process in the 112th Congress, going so far as to send and publicly release letters to House Leadership saying he would not participate in writing a new farm bill until floor time was confirmed.
Despite the seeming agreement that a long-term bill in 2013 is the goal, none of the Congressional agriculture leaders have outlined a schedule for taking up a bill in committee.
Stabenow’s statement this week said she is committed to mark-up legislation “as soon as possible,” and Lucas confirmed to a reporter late in the week that the timeline will be a matter of months, not weeks. It is widely expected that action won’t begin in either chamber until after a series of fiscal issues is dealt with, which means at least April.
USDA this week announced it would begin implementing farm safety net programs included in the 2008 Farm Bill extension.
The Department will open a sign-up period for the Direct and Counter-Cyclical Payments (DCP) program and the ACRE program for 2013 crops on Feb. 19. The sign-up window for the ACRE program will end June 3, while the sign-up window for the DCP program will end Aug. 2.
This crop year will be unique in that farmers will have the option of signing up for the DCP program or ACRE. In prior years, farmers had to remain committed to their choices at the beginning of the 2008 Farm Bill’s implementation.
While both programs were extended for the 2013 crop year, there has been intense speculation that farmers might not receive direct payments if funding is reallocated as Congress seeks to cut overall federal spending.
Lucas said this week that in absence of a long-term bill, the “commitment” to these programs in the extension should be upheld to provide farmers with some measure of certainty about their safety net.