Link to Offered Amendments to the Senate Farm Bill (S. 954)

As the United States Senate continues to debate the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 (S. 954), 139 amendments have been filed.  Although many are “placeholder” amendments and may be withdrawn or adopted by unanimous consent, they chamber will have to dispense with them one way or another.

For a complete listing of proposed amendments, please visit http://www.agri-pulse.com/uploaded/Amendments.pdf and http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/D?d113:1:./temp/~bd1HaW:@@@L&summ2=m&|/home/LegislativeData.php

The full text of the Senate Farm Bill (as well as the amendments that were adopted, defeated or withdrawn) during the mark-up by the Senate Agriculture Committee) can be accessed by visiting http://www.ag.senate.gov/issues/farm-bill

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Key Farm Bill Issues Likely to Rise Again in Floor Debates (via Agri-Pulse Communications)

WASHINGTON, May 17, 2013- Two days after a five-year farm bill passed out of both the Senate and House Agriculture Committees, Washington agricultural groups expressed their support for the progress while hinting at the battles to come on the House and Senate floors and during conference.

The Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act of 2013 passed by a vote of 36-10 in the House Agriculture Committee Wednesday night. The bill includes an estimated $39.6 billion in mandatory funding savings, the elimination of direct payments and more than $20 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It also consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13, with estimated savings of $6 billion.

Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said he expects the bill to be debated on the House floor in June.

Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., also foresees a June debate. “If we can stay on track, I think we should be able to conference with the Senate in July and have a new five-year farm bill in place before the August recess,” he said.

The Senate has already scheduled time next week for floor debate on its version of the farm bill, which passed out of committee Tuesday.

“This provides a great reason for optimism we will have a new long-term farm bill this year, “ said American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) President Bob Stallman. “That belief is further supported by the fact that the bills are more striking in their similarities than in their differences. The emphasis on crop insurance as a risk management tool, combined with flexibility that the measures offer through other safety net choices, will go a long way in ensuring a stable agricultural economy over the next few years.”

The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association expressed full support of the Senate bill, but outlined its issues with the House version, particularly the amendment to prevent further rulemaking under the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA).

“USCA urges Congress to not completely bar any action on the issue in the future, and instead, provide opportunities for groups to find middle ground and consensus regarding the clarification of specific terms within the rule,” said USCA President Jon Wooster. The group is also wary of an amendment withdrawn during the committee process that would repeal Mandatory (Country of Origin Labeling) COOL for muscle cut and ground meats. The issue will certainly reemerge later in the legislative process.

Similarly, the National Farmers Union said the limitations on GIPSA, which were supported by Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., “would undercut the enforcement of farmer protections under the Packers and Stockyards Act.”

NFU commended the House committee for including disaster assistance and price protection in the commodity programs while streamlining conservation programs and maintaining the Dairy Security Act. NFU President Roger Johnson said his group would also support an amendment on the House floor to provide mandatory funding for renewable energy programs.

Ferd Hoefner, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) policy director, applauded the restoration of funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, as well as the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program in the House bill.

“Funding for all three programs is higher in the new House bill than in the bill reported by the Senate Agriculture Committee earlier this week,” he noted.

However, NSAC dislikes the new commodity title programs and crop insurance structure. “There is little farm program reform in the Agriculture Reform bill,” said Hoefner. “It reinvests most of the savings from direct payments back into new commodity and crop insurance subsidies.  It increases the per farm commodity subsidy limitation by 92 percent and leaves in place current loopholes that allow individual farms to collect unlimited payments. It places no caps whatsoever on farm insurance subsidies.”

“We intend to see that these failings get a second review when the bill heads to the House floor,” Hoefner said.

NSAC-endorsed amendments passed in the mark-up include provisions sponsored by Rep. Negrete McLeod, D-Calif., enabling SNAP participants to use direct farmer-to-consumer markets, by Rep. Courtney, D-Conn., initiating a USDA local and regional agriculture study and program review, by Rep. McIntyre, D-N.C., improving technical assistance for rural community development loans and grants, by Rep. McIntyre increasing the liability limit for Whole Farm revenue insurance, and by Rep. Fudge, D-Ohion, authorizing a Healthy Food Financing Initiative at USDA.

A press conference led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., held the morning after the House Agriculture Committee passed its farm bill, foreshadowed the food stamp fight expected to play out on the House floor this summer. “Right now, food stamps are helping over 47 million Americans, nearly half of them children, meet their basic food needs,” she said. “But the House Farm Bill seeks to destroy that precedent. It slashes food stamps by over $20 billion, hurting millions of Americans and our economy.”

DeLauro also vilified the crop insurance program when she quoted a Government Accountability Office (GAO) finding that 26 crop insurance beneficiaries received at least a million dollars in premium subsidies in 2011. “I bet they ate pretty well,” she said.

DeLauro encouraged policy makers and activists “to mobilize and give notice that if this bill persists in cutting food stamps while protecting the rich, we will do everything in our power to stop it from becoming law.”

The American Soybean Association (ASA) President Danny Murphy supported the House bill’s key provisions to strengthen crop insurance and continue overseas marketing programs. However, ASA reinforced its opposition to a price-based program in the commodity title, under which payments are tied to current plantings. “The potential planting distortions this program could cause if market prices fall,” Murphy said. “That said, we believe these differences can be ironed out, either on the House floor or in conference with the Senate.”

Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, offered and withdrew an amendment that would have decoupled payments under the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program from current-year plantings. Gibbs said the current language in the PLC program could distort plantings during periods of low prices.

“We appreciate Rep. Gibbs’ efforts to highlight the potential distortions that could result from a program based on target prices that are coupled to current-year plantings,” Murphy said.

Gibbs successfully passed an amendment that would require USDA to provide an annual report on the impact of the PLC and Revenue Loss Coverage (RLC) programs.

Similarly, National Corn Growers Association President Pam Johnson “remains extremely concerned with the Committee’s decision to adopt a fixed-target-price program that moves U.S. farm policy away from the market-oriented reforms that have made possible a robust rural economy.”

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) specifically supported the inclusion of permanent disaster programs and the elimination of the livestock title.

“Farmers and ranchers endure extreme weather conditions – from drought to flood to freezes to the extreme heat – and still work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year to provide the country and the world with food and fiber,” said NCBA President Scott George.

He also noted NCBA’s support of an amendment introduced by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that would prohibit states from setting production standards for foods brought in from other states. NCBA said the amendment would render federal production mandates untenable, particularly the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) / United Egg Producers (UEP) housing standards.

Sugar program reform is another issue likely to show up again in the farm bill process this year. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., introduced, but withdrew, an amendment to repeal the Feedstock Flexibility Program, eliminate price support levels and change domestic supply restrictions, among other sugar policy changes.

The Coalition for Sugar Reform released a statement supporting Goodlatte’s effort. “We welcome Rep. Goodlatte’s decision to bring this amendment to the floor with his colleagues, so the full House will have the opportunity to vote for reform of the sugar program,” stated the coalition.  “We look forward to working in support of this commonsense sugar reform amendment when it is offered and debated on the House floor.”

www.agri-pulse.com.

Senate Agriculture Committee Makes Quick Work of Farm Bill Mark-up

The Senate Agriculture Committee kicked-started public debate on the 2013 Farm Bill, with the goal of moving the bill to the Senate floor the week of May 21st.  After a quick two hour markup of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 (S. 10), the bill passed out of the committee by a vote of 15 – 5.

The Senate bill eliminates direct and counter-cyclical payments, as well as the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program after 2013, and creates a new Adverse Market Payment (AMP) program, The AMP program would pay producers of covered commodities when actual prices fall below a specific reference prices.  The actual price will be equal to the higher of the national average price received by producers during the 12-month marketing year and the national average loan rate for a marketing assistance loan.  These price points had previously been known as target prices and, with the exception of rice and peanuts, the newly minted reference prices are equal to the target prices established as part of the 2008 Farm Bill.

With the ascension of Senator Thad Cochran (R – MS) as the Ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, it is clear that southern interests now have a stronger hand to play in the Senate.  The reference price for rice in the Senate bill has been increased to $13.30/hundredweight (up from the current target price of $10.50/hundredweight) and the peanut reference price will be increased to $523.77/ton (up from $495/ton under current law.

In addition to the enhanced reference price, there is also an exception for the rice payment mechanism.  For long-grain and medium grain rice, the actual price for each class of rice is the national average market price received by producers during the 12-month marketing year for the type or class of rice or the national average loan rate for a marketing assistance loan in effect.  According to Agri-Pulse, rice producers will have a one-time chance to adjust yields that were established under the 2002 farm bill and peanut producers can update yields and base acres.

The AMP program is not the only safety net option available to producers.  The Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program is retained from last year’s bill but the formula has been adjusted for the purposes of cost savings.  The price band has been adjusted to 88 percent instead of 89 percent and the prices will be calculated on a 12-month timeframe instead of the first five months of the marketing year.

The ARC program covers planted acres for wheat, corn, grain sorghum, barley, oats, long grain rice, medium grain rice, pulse crops, soybeans, other oilseeds and peanuts – with payments being made whenever the actual crop revenue for the crop year for the covered commodity is less than the agriculture risk coverage guarantee for the crop year for the same covered commodity.  Producers would need to make a one-time irrevocable election in order to be covered under the ARC program for 2014-2018.

On the dairy front, the proposed legislation repeals the Dairy Product Price Support (DPPS), Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) and Dairy Export Incentive programs.  Conversely, the Dairy Forward Pricing, Dairy Indemnity, Dairy Promotion and Research programs (as well as the Federal Milk Marketing Order Review Commission) are all authorized through 2018.

The bill again includes the bulk of “Foundation for the Future” plan that has been advocated for by the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) for the past couple of years – including a new Dairy Product Margin Protection Program and a Dairy Market Stabilization Program.  A dairy operation that signs up in the basic production margin protection program must also participates in the stabilization program.

The dairy operation would be required to pay an annual administration fee (depending on marketing volume) which would be used to cover the costs of the program, the reporting of dairy market news, and other related costs.  There is an “off ramp” exception for limited-resource dairies.

Also of note (and a rather “late breaking” development) is the linkage of crop insurance to conservation.  Last week a number of national farm, conservation and environmental organizations had reached agreement linking participation in the crop insurance program to conservation compliance.  In exchange, the groups agreed to fend off another potential farm bill amendment that would have limited the amount of crop insurance premium subsidies, depending on a grower’s adjusted gross income (AGI).

During the mark-up Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D – ND) and John Hoeven (R – ND) attempted, without success, to decouple the two issues.  Noting that it was the national organizations – not the local groups – who had agreed to the compromise, Ms. Heitkamp and Mr. Hoeven knew that it would be an uphill climb to remove or modify the provision from the bill.  The issue is expected to resurface when the House Agriculture Committee begins work on their farm bill May 15th.

New Farm Bill Leans on Food Stamps (via Politico)

Try, try again.

With new leadership promises of floor time, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas is back with a retooled farm bill that sets a goal of $38 billion in 10-year savings while tilting more to the right by demanding greater cuts from food stamps.

In a short interview with POLITICO, the Republican chairman was decidedly cool toward President Barack Obama’s plan to revamp the Food for Peace program overseas. At the same, remembering the alfalfa fields of his own farm boyhood in Oklahoma, Lucas didn’t rule out using the Farm Bill debate to expand forage for the stressed bee population – a hot environmental cause that could help him win friends in the battles ahead on the House floor.

“We have honestly not gotten to that point in the discussions in the committee but I understand where you are coming from,” Lucas told POLITICO. “I am not opposed,” he added later, and in discussing his boyhood: “Yes I understand the importance of bees.”

Since Lucas’ last farm bill was shut down by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in December, the March 1 sequestration order has already begun cutting into commodity programs, and his $38 billion target assumes about $4 billion from these reductions.

An additional $14 billion would come now from further changes in basic farm programs and the remaining $20 billion from the nutrition title, chiefly food stamps.

Lucas stressed that he is still waiting for final scores from the Congressional Budget Office: “My staff are jumping from one foot to the next.” But his hope is to keep faith with promised assistance for livestock producers while finding the added savings he needs from trims elsewhere in the commodity and crop insurance titles.

For example, premium subsidies for the new Supplemental Coverage Option or SCO crop insurance plan could be pared back to 65 percent, from 70 percent last year.

“Livestock will be taken care of because of the drought situation,” Lucas told POLITICO. “We will not retreat on the livestock and still get to that $38 billion— unless the CBO surprises me again.”

But in real dollars — and as a proportion of his entire package — Lucas admits he is leaning more on food stamps. Last year the nutrition title contributed about $16.1 billion in savings, or less than half of the chairman’s mark. This year it is not just up by $4 billion, but also accounts for 53 percent of the Farm Bill savings and almost 60 percent of the new cuts — beyond those attributed to sequestration.

“The bottom line is: I sincerely believe this $20 billion won’t take a calorie off the plate of anyone who’s qualified,” Lucas told POLITICO. But he himself has criticized the outdated asset test that would be re-imposed under his draft bill, and he appears to have made a tactical decision just to try to get across the House floor.

As it is, he is sure to face criticism from the right for not going further — including tougher work requirements for those getting food stamp benefits for more than three successive months. At the same time, Lucas can’t expect to get a deal with the Senate and the White House without coming down on his numbers.

“Remember there are three tiers of issues here: committee issues, floor issues and there will be conference issues,” he said. “I just have to get to conference to sort out some issues.”

He said his $38 billion target owes a lot to Obama, and once the president set that 10-year target for agriculture savings in his own budget, Lucas wanted to match it.

“I was compelled to match his number. I’m saving $38 billion from the farm bill process,” Lucas said. “Yes he [Obama] is certainly focused on the side of the equation that raises the food not the consumption. I’m trying to be a little more equitable in my reform.”

As part of his partnership with his ranking Democrat, Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, Lucas said his draft bill will include a new milk program that has been strongly opposed by most processors and Boehner. And while he hopes to mark up next week in his committee, the chairman said he fully expects the leadership will make him refight many of the same battles on the House floor.

“Whatever happens in committee we’re going to do it all over again on the floor and leadership will have an effect on that,” Lucas said. “We’ll have some very lively and loud debate in committee and even louder debate on the floor.”

“I work within the world that was crafted before I got here and try to do the best I can,” he said. And ultimately this is what makes it impossible, he said, for him to carry the food aid reforms promoted by Obama and George W, Bush before this administration.

“My challenge is in crafting this grand coalition to move this bill,” Lucas said. “A big part of the foreign food aid has been — down through the decades — the ability to say to people out in the countryside. `We’re using your product to meet these needs around the world. Yes, we’re paying for it with your dollars but we’re using your product.’”

“If we go to a system of buying the food overseas where it is most convenient and shipping it the closest way, from an accountant perspective I understand the logic. But I have to craft a coalition to keep the money in the account to make sure the food aid is there and no matter how efficient the delivery is, if we stop appropriating the money for the food, people are going to go hungry.”

© 2013 POLITICO LLC

Pew Research Center releases “Civic Engagement in the Digital Age” Survey

The Pew Research Center (via the Pew Internet & American Life Project) has released a survey entitled “Civic Engagement in the Digital Age”.

According to the survey overview, social networking sites have grown more important in recent years as a venue for political involvement, learning, and debate. Overall, 39% of all American adults took part in some sort of political activity on a social networking site during the 2012 campaign.

This means that more Americans are now politically active on social networking sites (SNS) than used them at all as recently as the 2008 election campaign. At that point, 26% of the population used a social networking site of any kind.

The growth in several specific behaviors between 2008 and 2012 illustrates the increasing importance of SNS as places where citizens can connect with political causes and issues:

  • In 2012, 17% of all adults posted links to political stories or articles on social networking sites, and 19% posted other types of political content. That is a six-fold increase from the 3% of adults who posted political stories or links on these sites in 2008.
  • In 2012, 12% of all adults followed or friended a political candidate or other political figure on a social networking site, and 12% belonged to a group on a social networking site involved in advancing a political or social issue. That is a four-fold increase from the 3% of adults who took part in these behaviors in 2008.

Strategic communications and effective utilization of digital media platforms is a core component of the services offered by RDL & Associates.  Working with our strategic partners, we combine both traditional and digital media outlets to bring our clients message to the public and policymakers.  In addition, we assist leaders and organization with little to no digital media experience get into the habit of effectively utilizing these platforms – as well as facilitating an understanding as to why these communications channels are critical in today’s environment.

Please contact Dave Ladd, President of RDL & Associates, for further information.

The survey can be accessed by visiting http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Civic-Engagement

LIKE: Seven Rules and 10 Simple Steps for Social Media in Your Campaign is now available at http://www.amazon.com/Like-Campaign-Politics-Business-Otherwise/dp/1105401421/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1331905806&sr=8-1

Guest Commentary: Dairy Policy Quagmire Drags On (Steven Krikava)

I was trying to explain dairy policy to a friend of mine over the weekend. He’s a political fundraiser, someone I’ve known for quite a long time. He doesn’t really care much about the details. But he knows that fights over dairy affect his ability to solicit contributions for his clients. So he likes to understand the underlying issues.

“Looks like the storm clouds are building for an old-fashioned dairy duel,” he commented. Only a fundraising hack could get away with mixing metaphors like that. But I couldn’t resist building on his conflict comparison. So I offered this revised analogy.

The old dairy fights were more like the U.S. Civil War. They were basically regional fights. Often it was the Midwest, and to a certain extent California, that were the secessionists. Most of the milk produced in those regions was used for manufactured dairy products. Midwest producers received only minor benefit from policies that put the highest value on milk on fluid consumption. So they opposed the status quo.

But the dairy fight this year is more like Iraq – a sectarian dispute with multiple mutually hostile factions. Almost everyone agrees that the old regime has to go. Price supports and the MILC direct payments no longer provide an effective safety net for any producers. They interfere with our ability to compete in world markets and are unsustainable from a federal budget standpoint. Margin insurance, as proposed in the Dairy Security Act (DSA), seems to be the best alternative.

But some Californians are unconvinced and others say that the formula needs to be adjusted to fit their unique cost structure. Some producers in the Midwest argue that tight margins are due to expanded milk production in the West, so they should not be required to adjust production. Some producers in the Northeast and the South say that they should be exempt from the market stabilization provisions because they need all their milk for local fluid use and the growing yogurt business.

Someone else can decide which of those dairy producer factions represent the Sunnis, the Shiites, and the Kurds. But in my Iraq analogy, there’s a fourth faction – the milk processors. The processors also hate the ‘supply management’ provisions of DSA. But the producers who dissent from DSA are suspicious of the processors’ motives, even though they might be viewed as opportunistic allies.

You can only take an analogy like this so far. I think it helped my friend understand some of the diverse interests in this year’s dairy fight. If nothing else, he found it entertaining. But I don’t think it will help his clients very much as they try to avoid the minefields in this year’s dairy policy debate.

Fortunately, there are some statesmen in this year’s dairy debate. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) have made it clear that they are not going to let infighting among dairy groups get in the way of passing a farm bill. And in the House, Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) are valiantly trying to keep the disagreement from erupting into a full scale civil war.

But the sad thing is, the most likely outcome of continued bickering and maneuvering will be a continuation of the status quo. And that is the one thing that almost everyone agrees would be a disaster for the U.S. dairy industry.

Steven Krikava is currently deployed on his 6th tour of active duty on the on-going farm bill dairy policy conflict. The views in this blog post are his own.

Soybean Executive Named National Association of Wheat Growers CEO

May 1, 2013

Longtime soybean industry executive Jim Palmer has been named chief executive officer of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG).

Palmer was selected by the NAWG Board of Directors after a search process led by the NAWG officers and grower-leaders of the National Wheat Foundation, NAWG’s affiliated charitable organization.

He will officially begin work with the Association and Foundation as of June 1, though he plans to meet with NAWG’s grower-leaders and staff throughout the month of May.

“Our farmer-leaders were very impressed with Jim’s experience and vision for the wheat industry, and we are excited to have him take the lead on the NAWG staff,” said Bing Von Bergen, NAWG’s president and a farmer from Moccasin, Mont., who has also served as NAWG’s interim CEO since late February.

“We are confident that under Jim’s leadership, NAWG will be able to face the challenges we have before us now in Washington and grow our industry well into the future.”

Palmer has worked in administrative roles for national and state agriculture organizations for the past 30 years, most of that time in the soybean industry.

From 1997 until early 2012, he worked as the executive director for the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council.

Earlier in his career, he was engaged in commercial agriculture credit and was the staff lead during the development of the United Soybean Board, the national soybean checkoff.

Since leaving Minnesota Soybean, he has worked as an independent management and development consultant with agriculture companies around the United States.

“I am extremely proud to be selected to serve as NAWG’s next CEO,” Palmer said. “The future will be bright for our wheat farmers working together, partnering with NAWG’s strong state organizations and our industry agribusiness friends, as well as other farm organizations. The bottom line is, I’m so eager to take on this new role at NAWG that I’ve mentally started already.”

Palmer grew up on a large, multi-generational family farm in northeast Missouri, near Hannibal. He attended the University of Missouri-Columbia, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics as part of an honors program that also conferred graduate credits.

More about Palmer is available online at www.wheatworld.org/about-us/contact-us/jim-palmer/.

Members of the media interested in interviewing Palmer or Von Bergen should contact Melissa George Kessler at mkessler (at) wheatworld.org or 202-386-2585

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