Note: On Thursday afternoon the House failed to pass its new farm bill on a 195-234 vote. More here.

The House took up the farm bill debate in earnest on Wednesday (June 19). With over 100 amendments to get through, there was plenty for agriculture advocates to focus on.

But for those in the South, Amendment Two – offered by Ohio Rep. Bob Gibbs and Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind – drew special scrutiny.

“I’ve met with all the Arkansas delegation,” said Jeffery Hall, associate director of national affairs for the Arkansas Farm Bureau, shortly before the debate opened. “They’re all optimistic that the House can get the farm bill passed even though there’s a lot to work through.

“We’re extremely concerned about the amendment from Gibbs and Kind. We’re in opposition to that and believe it would be devastating to rice, peanuts and other Southern crops.”

Hall lauded Arkansas Rep. Rick Crawford’s approach to the amendment, as he sent a “Dear Colleague” letter around the House explaining why the amendment should be voted against.

Proponents of the Gibbs/Kind amendment “argue that the Commodity Title is not market-oriented,” reads the letter. “This couldn’t be further from the truth” as the House bill would eliminate direct payments. The amendment would actually restore the “antiquated” base acre system and “continue to make payments to those who are no longer farming.”

The letter also pushed back against arguments that the farm bill is too kind to rice and peanuts. Analysis by “leading experts,” it says, “show that the average total cost of production for peanuts and rice are between $695 and $708 per ton and $14.92 per hundredweight, respectively. The reference prices in (the House farm bill) are well below their cost of production estimates, ensuring that neither rice nor peanut growers will ‘plant for the program’ like some allege.”

Regional differences were also addressed as the letter says the Gibbs/Kind amendment “only works for one or two regions of the country, while demolishing the farm safety net for all others.”

Gibbs rejected those arguments. “The amendment would have set a target price for all crops at 55 percent of the five-year, rolling Olympic average,” he said on the floor. “It would also change the acreage available for target price support to 85 percent of a farmer’s base acres.”

Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, opposed the amendment.

Kind claimed the amendment would still maintain “an important safety net for farmers if commodity prices do drop.” However, “supporters of the Price Loss Coverage Program as currently drafted will claim the program is necessary to ensure farmers have a safety net for when the market collapses. But instead, the program in the farm bill before us sets target prices so high that some commodities are guaranteed an 8 percent profit.”

Kind said no other business is guaranteed such profit margin other than crop insurance companies that are guaranteed 14 percent profit under the House farm bill. “By setting the target prices at this historically high level it will all but ensure a much higher likelihood of government payouts in the future. In fact, implementation of the PLC program will already require government payouts for the top five commodity crops.”