Senators took to the chamber floor on Wednesday (May 22) to debate a new farm bill. Topics ranged from budget issues to conservation, GMO labeling, agricultural research funding and the sugar program.

Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss backed a new program, the Adverse Market Protection, as it “seeks to serve the needs of those not protected by the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and crop insurance programs. It is imperative that the farm safety net provide protection for multi-year declines – especially for Southern crops like rice and peanuts since the protection provided by ARC and crop insurance isn’t sufficient.”

Chambliss also addressed pending upland cotton policies that “represent fundamental reform in the support provided to cotton farmers. (Those) reforms contribute $2.8 billion towards savings in the committee’s budget target. The legislation eliminates, or changes, all Title 1 programs providing direct support for those involved in cotton production. It puts us down the path to resolving our WTO dispute with Brazil.”

Chambliss, who has announced he will not seek reelection, also supports a provision in the bill, “that ties conservation compliance to crop insurance. … The compromise will provide a strong safety net for our farmers and natural resources while allowing them to be wise stewards of taxpayer resources.”

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said currently farmers that “want to participate in Title 1 commodity programs – including the current direct payment subsidy program – must take steps to use best conservation practices on their land when it comes to highly-erodible soil and wetlands.”

The new farm bill would eliminate direct payments. “Instead, we’re strengthening crop insurance,” said Stabenow. “Here’s the issue: if we eliminate direct payment subsidies we don’t want to create unintended consequences by not having the link (to conservation) any longer. It’s important to all of us that sensitive lands be managed in the best possible way. That’s how we avoided having a ‘dust bowl’ during the droughts.”

Commodity groups and conservation groups “were on different sides of this issue for a long time.” However, “they listened to each other and tried to see the other’s viewpoint. … They were able to come together with a plan that conserves soil and water resources for generations to come and protects the safety net our farmers rely on.”

Stabenow said the agreement reached is “historic. … We want (farmers) to have crop insurance. Amendments that weaken crop insurance would reduce the number of farmers participating in crop insurance, raising premiums for family farmers and reduce the environmental impacts and benefits.”

The new agreement’s math is very simple, said Stabenow. “The more acres in crop insurance, the more we have environmental and conservation benefits.”