The House Ag Committee voted out its version of a Farm Bill early Thursday morning. The tally was 35 to 11. Thirteen Democrats joined 22 Republicans to pass the measure out of the committee. 

The House committee bill would reduce spending by $35 billion over 10 years. There would be a $23.6 billion reduction in commodity spending (again, all this is over 10 years), most of it coming from a $16.5 billion cut in the food stamp program. (The bill that passed the Senate would cut $23 billion in food programs, $4.5 billion from food stamps.)

Here is a very good rundown on issues that aren’t normally at the center of Farm Bill debates — local food production, beginning farmers, organic crops and sustainable agriculture measures. 

The bill now goes before the House, and Farm Bill backers are pressing for a quick vote. 

“Only 13 legislative days remain before the August recess,” said Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the committee’s ranking Democrat. “If the House leadership fails to bring up this farm bill before the recess, they will jeopardize one of the economic bright spots of our nation’s fragile economy. Farmers need the certainty of a five-year farm bill. We cannot wait for the mess that will occur during the lame duck, and, frankly, I think an extension of the current farm policy potentially creates more problems than it solves.”

The Farm Bill faced 100 amendments and, according to Politico, the debate “wandered far afield: bedbug research, rival catfish inspections, a bid by private weather insurance companies for a share of premium subsidies and an interstate commerce clause fight between Midwest egg producers and California Proposition 2 rules on living standards for hens were just some of the topics before ending near 1 a.m. Thursday.”

Here is Chris Clayton’s rundown on amendments. 

And there are more reactions to the House bill:

Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow

Now that the House Agriculture Committee has acted, House leadership should swiftly bring this bill to the floor. With droughts and weather disasters plaguing America’s agriculture economy, failure to pass a Farm Bill or passing a short-term extension would add even more uncertainty and stress onto American farm families and small businesses.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

Americans deserve a farm and jobs bill that reforms the safety net for producers in times of need, promotes the bio-based economy, conserves our natural resources, strengthens rural communities,  promotes job growth in rural America, and supports food assistance to low-income families. 

Unfortunately, the bill produced by the House Agriculture Committee contains deep cuts in SNAP, including a provision that will deny much-needed food assistance to 3 million Americans, mostly low-income working families with children as well as seniors. The proposed cuts will deny 280,000 children in low-income families access to school meals and reduce farm income across rural America. These cuts wouldn’t just leave Americans hungry – they would stunt economic growth.

“The bill also makes misguided reductions to critical energy and conservation program efforts.

National Corn Growers Association President Garry Niemeyer

 The National Corn Growers Association is disappointed the House Agriculture Committee’s passed version of the 2012 farm bill does not include a more viable market-oriented risk management program.  We support moving the legislative process forward and urge Speaker Boehner to schedule time for full House floor consideration before the August recess. 

However, we feel there needs to be significant changes made to the legislation. Our farmers will be working with members of the House of Representatives to ensure those changes are included in a final package.

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch

Late last night, the House Agriculture Committee passed a Farm Bill that slashes the food stamp safety net during an economic recession, dismantles programs supporting sustainable agriculture and fails to address the corporate control of America’s food system from seeds to supermarkets. The House Agriculture Committee bill further entrenches the corporate control of food and agriculture while curtailing or eliminating the few programs that encourage beginning farmers and ranchers and facilitate the transition to organic farming.

The House Farm Bill also weakens the already woefully inadequate federal oversight of genetically engineered crops, livestock and food. The proposed bill would allow farmers to cultivate unapproved genetically engineered crops before the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency have finished studying the potential impact of the proposed new crops on consumers, farmers and the environment.

The legislation also fails to address the impact of rampant consolidation in the meatpacking, agribusiness, food processing and retail sector on consumers and farmers. The last Farm Bill made some important first steps to ensure that livestock producers received fairer prices and contracts. The House Agriculture Committee’s version of the Farm Bill ends even the small provisions on contract fairness that survived the meatpacker and poultry company lobbying assault on the sensible provisions required by the last Farm Bill. 

As the Congress moves forward and the Senate and House reconcile their different Farm Bill measures, the conference committee should reject House cuts to the nutrition title, conservation title, programs supporting organic and sustainable farming, and the repeal of the improvements to livestock reforms from the 2008 Farm Bill.

Large dairy producers issued a statement on the Dairy Market Stabilization Program, contained in the House bill:

The Dairy Security Act remains a risk to America’s dairy industry, yet is being sold as the solution. The program would attempt to manipulate both supply and demand for milk in order to temporarily push milk prices higher. A short-term gain in milk price from supply management will result in a long-term decrease in milk price because of the lost global market share. Not being a reliable supplier threatens the U.S. competitive edge in international markets, reducing our opportunity for continued success in export markets.

The nation’s dairy producers support reform, but the DMSP is the wrong direction. Reforms should not reduce exports, cut jobs and add more regulations. The Dairy Title should allow the dairy industry a chance to compete and grow without government regulating the amount of milk a farmer can produce. Our citizens and the world population deserve an abundant, affordable and sustainable food supply.

The members of our associations ask you to support a margin insurance program that will help dairy producers without including a government controlled supply management program,” concluded the letter.

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson 

NFU thanks the leadership of the House Agriculture Committee for its hard work in passing the FARRM Act out of committee. NFU is pleased that the committee included some protection for long-term price collapse, which is a critical part of any safety net.

NFU is also pleased that the committee rejected amendments to alter the no-cost sugar program and remove the critical Dairy Market Stabilization Program (DMSP) from the new dairy program. The sugar industry is important to our nation’s economic health, generating $20 billion annually and creating 142,000 jobs. And although NFU is skeptical of the untested dairy insurance program included in the Act, one thing that would certainly make the program wholly ineffective is allowing dairies to increase production unchecked. Eliminating the supply management provision would be disastrous and would lead to a repeat of the low prices the industry has seen in recent years.

The House Agriculture Committee also did well to preserve funding levels for conservation programs, which a recent NFU poll found is a priority for farmers across the country. The additional provisions that encourage federal nutrition program beneficiaries to use their benefits to purchase local and regional food is also a positive step for local producers.

Energy programs are a critical part of rural development, so NFU is disappointed that the energy title received no mandatory funding. Discretionary funds are awarded each year by appropriation and do not provide the secure multi-year funding necessary to promote renewable energy investment.

For more than a decade NFU has fought for Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL), and we are deeply disappointed that the committee approved the amendment. This is an underhanded way to dismantle COOL behind closed doors and out of public view. Many in the leadership of the livestock industry seem intent on looking backward and ignoring consumer preferences. Consumers have a right to know from where their food comes, and Congress must not interfere with that right.

NFU also continues to be concerned with the deep cuts to the nutrition title. During these economically difficult times, cutting $16 billion from such an important safety net for so many people does not make sense and will not be agreeable to the Senate.

NFU is disheartened that the House Agriculture Committee voted to roll back progress made toward increasing competition and fairness in the livestock market. In the last 30 years, more than 500,000 beef cattle operations and nearly 600,000 hog producers have gone out of business. These livestock rules help level the playing field for independent producers and must be restored.

I urge House leadership to allow floor consideration of FARRM as soon as possible and look forward to working with both chambers of Congress to complete this legislation by Sept. 30, when the current farm bill expires.

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