Senators from the South are explaining their “no” votes following the Thursday passage of the $1 trillion Senate farm bill. A final tally of 65-34 ensured the legislation’s win, but a large number of Southern lawmakers were included in the minority.

Those who followed the Senate proceedings will not be surprised at the development. Claiming a lack of regional balance, no Southern senator on the Senate Agriculture Committee voted for the bill coming out of committee.

For more, see here.

Southern producers – particularly those with rice, peanuts and wheat – have complained for months that the committee’s program preferences didn’t take into account the unique cropping circumstances and inputs required in the region.

The Senate farm bill gets rid of direct payments and counter-cyclical farm programs. In their place it establishes the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) revenue insurance program that many in the South say benefits Midwest grain while leaving Southern producers facing price volatility and an insufficient safety net.

In the run-up to the bill’s final vote, Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss – a former chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee – and South Dakota Sen. John Thune worked on an amendment that would have allowed rice and peanut producers target price supports. However, after speaking with Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, the pair withdrew the amendment in hopes the issue will be dealt with in conference. 

More on the amendments here.

“As I weighed this bill’s impact on Georgia and the Southeast, I was simply unable to support it in its present form,” said Chambliss following the farm bill’s passage. “This bill contains significant reform with the elimination of direct payments, and makes several improvements to crop insurance. I have always been an advocate of risk management tools delivered through the private sector. But this bill seeks to establish a one-size-fits-all program rather than recognizing the limitations of crop insurance for certain regions of the country, namely the Southeast. The new commodity title program, the ARC program will provide corn and soybean growers in the Midwest with a minimal band of revenue protection while leaving producers of other crops in other regions very little protection and certainty. If this bill were to become law without significant changes, producers in the Southeast would be left without an effective safety net.”

Crop insurance, continued Chambliss “is a tool that addresses risk in an individual crop year. It does not work as a safety net by insuring against multiple-year price declines, nor is it a cure-all for a commodity market that can expand and contract based on the vagaries of weather, disease and international events. That is why farm policy in the past encouraged programs such as the marketing loan and the counter-cyclical program to work with, not in competition with, crop insurance…

“We must remember that the farm bill should help farmers and ranchers manage a combination of challenges largely out of their own control. We also must remember that it is not an entitlement for any one region or commodity. This bill needs to serve all producers in all parts of the country equitably and effectively.”