There is no argument that the farm bill passed out of the Senate Agriculture Committee on Thursday was bipartisan. It was not, however, regionally inclusive as all four senators on the committee from the South – Arkansas’ John Boozman, Georgia’s Saxby Chambliss, Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell and Mississippi’s Thad Cochran -- voted nay.

And those nay votes didn’t occur prior to the senators taking time during the markup to explain the negative impacts the legislation would have on southern agriculture – especially for rice and peanut producers.

For more, see here and here.

Also of interest to growers will be a change in the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) test from $900,000 to $750,000 to qualify for farm programs. The amendment offered by Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley would also change qualification wording from “active personal management” to “actively engaged.”

An unhappy Sen. Chambliss – who was especially vocal during the markup -- said the change in wording had come at a late hour. “I didn’t realize, because we didn’t get to see the amendment until very early this morning … about the change in the definition of ‘actively engaged in farming.’

“This is a huge change that will impact every single farm in America. It will change who does qualify and who doesn’t. I think that’s a huge mistake.”

Guest workers, the Harvest Act

The agricultural labor force and a workable H2A guest worker program were also atop Chambliss’ agenda. “It’s of critical importance that we discuss this issue … because everybody involved in agriculture is having the same problem across America with respect to an agricultural workforce that we know to be legal.

"The only guest worker program out there today is the H2A program, which is very cumbersome and very expensive. Most of our farmers simply don’t want to go through the hassle. Whether you’re farming specialty crops or running an agricultural business, you need to be able to depend on a quality supply of legal workers.”

Times have changed in a dramatic way, continued Chambliss, who played up “the Harvest Act,” which he said would be discussed further on the Senate floor. “Basically what this does to H2A is make it more workable, more farmer-friendly and says a farmer may bring in a supply of labor from outside the country for a period of 10 months. (The worker) will then have to go back for two months before coming back into (the United States).

“They don’t have to be here for 10 months. Most farmers, under H2A, bring in workers for 90 days, 120 days, whatever their particular need is. Then, the workers have to go back…

“We’re about 60 days away from harvesting Vidalia onions in the central part of Georgia. That commodity depends on workers who do the type of work that, frankly, most American workers don’t want to do. You have to bend over, cut the onions, dig them up. That’s just an example of one form of specialty crop farming in Georgia that relies very heavily on imported workers.”

Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, committee chairwoman, said “everywhere in Michigan … I hear the same thing.”