With a scheduled Wednesday mark-up of the House farm bill looming, the Arkansas Farm Bureau has endorsed the legislation. The House version – titled the “Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM)” – would cut around $35 billion over a decade.
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“The House’s proposal offers a choice between Price Loss Coverage and Revenue Loss Coverage that will enable farmers to determine what best fits their particular situation,” said Randy Veach, Arkansas Farm Bureau President, in a letter sent to House Agriculture Committee leadership on Monday. “FARRM’s focus is on addressing serious and sustained losses, which is the intended purpose of a farm bill. This bill acknowledges the diversity of agriculture and recognizes that a one-size-fits-all approach is not workable for all farmers and ranchers.
“We feel the options laid out in the FARRM bill will provide planting and production flexibility. The House bill’s Price Loss Coverage and Revenue Loss Coverage provides a better system of support for southern agriculture than the Senate proposal and allows producers to plant for the market. However, we are obviously disappointed in the loss of
direct payments as a risk management tool.”
To read the full letter, scroll down.
Veach and Jeffery Hall, Arkansas Farm BureauAssociate Director of National Affairs, are currently in Washington, D.C., meeting with Arkansas lawmakers prior to the mark-up.
“I was just in a meeting where (Oklahoma Rep.) Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, addressed the crowd,” said Hall on Tuesday morning. The chairman “was confident the price protection option would be maintained through committee as well as on the House floor and through conference. He’s optimistic that the farmers will have a choice. We were extremely pleased to hear that.”
While many hope the House mark-up may copy the Senate’s and be finished quickly, the legislation’s route forward remains out of focus. “We just don’t know about getting time for the legislation on the House floor.”
With so much optimism from lawmakers who would be a part of the House/Senate conference, is it Hall’s sense that many of the potential bumpy issues have already been smoothed out?
“One of the encouraging thoughts moving toward finding common ground is the (agriculture committee) chairmen and ranking members basically had a conference during last year’s ‘super committee’ report. They all know each other’s personal preferences going forward.
“Of course the conference committee would add a few members from the House and Senate. But there isn’t a lot of difference between the House and Senate farm bill versions except for cuts to the nutrition programs and the Commodity Title. The other titles are very similar. They have to deal with two titles in question. That eases some of the conference frictions, I believe.”
What about the hard-liners? Will the House face more issues from coming amendments than anything else?
“It is exactly correct to worry about that -- the extremes on both sides. The Tea Party Republicans want more than $16 billion in cuts to the Nutrition Title. Then, Democrats from the big cities want no cuts to nutrition programs.
“That dynamic will be a challenge as this bill moves forward, especially on the House floor with the open process of amendments. It will be difficult.”
Amendments must be filed by Tuesday evening to make it to mark-up.
Lawmakers “are holding amendments close to the vest. In fact, Chairman Lucas did not indicate anything he is planning to do. He’s keeping his strategic cards close.
“We expect there will be nutrition amendments from Democrats to do away with the cuts to those programs.”
Does Hall believe that House Democrats would be willing to go along with the Senate’s $4 billion in cuts to nutrition programs? Or are they against any cuts?
“Both. Some of them don’t want any cuts. But I think a larger majority willing to go along with $4 billion in cuts compared to the (House’s proposal) to cut $16 billion.”
Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, has repeatedly said $16 billion in nutrition program cuts has no chance. “He’s said it will be fixed in conference, and I agree. But (Peterson) said Chairman Lucas had to propose such cuts to appease the far-right fiscal conservative Tea Party freshmen.”
Hall also expects amendments on the sugar program “to roll back to 2008 levels. I’ve never really lobbied on sugar -- Arkansas doesn’t have any. But when you look at moving back to the 2008 levels, you’d eliminate the use of some excess sugar going into ethanol plants. That, in turn, puts more pressure on corn stocks and, as a result, the livestock industry. So, we’ll be bringing that up with” the Arkansas delegation.
Has there been any indication that Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, House Majority Leader, will agree to schedule time for the farm bill on the House floor?
“I believe Cantor” and Ohio Rep. John Boehner, Speaker of the House, “haven’t thought about giving the farm bill any floor time. And, in my opinion, they won’t think about that until a bill is passed in committee. That’s where the pressure point will be for them – a committee vote will be important to providing floor time.”
Also of interest is a fledgling effort -- in the form of a letter making its way around the House -- to split the farm bill in two. The result: separate bills for nutrition programs and farm programs.
“I hope no one signs that letter,” said Hall. “We feel at Farm Bureau that if you split the farm bill we’ll never get a bill. The votes aren’t there.
“A while back they put the nutrition and farm programs together in order to get a farm bill passed. There were so many people moving away from production agriculture that we needed to garner more support.”
The following is a July 9 letter from Randy Veach, President of Arkansas Farm Bureau, to House Agriculture Committee leadership.
“For the past two years the House Agriculture Committee has been in the process of drafting a new farm bill. No other single piece of legislation is as important to the viability of agriculture in the United States as the farm bill. Arkansas Farm Bureau appreciates your leadership and bipartisan efforts in developing the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM). Agriculture is Arkansas’ largest industry and has an impact of more than $16 billion on our state’s economy. Farm policy that provides adequate protection for all of our farmers and ranchers is our top priority.
“You, your committee and staff are to be applauded for working so diligently. The House’s proposal offers a choice between Price Loss Coverage and Revenue Loss Coverage that will enable farmers to determine what best fits their particular situation. FARRM’s focus is on addressing serious and sustained losses, which is the intended purpose of a farm bill. This bill acknowledges the diversity of agriculture and recognizes that a one-size-fits-all approach is not workable for all farmers and ranchers.
“We feel the options laid out in the FARRM bill will provide planting and production flexibility. The House bill’s Price Loss Coverage and Revenue Loss Coverage provides a better system of support for southern agriculture than the Senate proposal and allows producers to plant for the market. However, we are obviously disappointed in the loss of direct payments as a risk management tool.
“The inclusion of the Dairy Security Act will keep dairy farmers and industry workers in business while streamlining support programs, keeping milk affordable for consumers and saving money. The ups and downs in milk prices and increasing feed prices leave volatility for our dairy farmers. It is critical that this portion of the bill remain intact to provide dairy farmers more stability.
“We are pleased to see the livestock disaster programs receive an extension in the FARRM discussion draft. Arkansas farmers have had a tough couple of years of drought and good natural disaster programs could mean that these farms will survive to see better days. “Supplemental Agricultural Disaster Assistance, Livestock Indemnity Payments (LIP), Livestock Forage Disaster Programs (LFP) and Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees and Farm-raised Fish (ELAP) are good programs that give support to farmers when needed most. Those kinds of basic support programs must be included to give cattlemen and other livestock producers a safety net during the worst natural disasters.
“For these reasons and more, we support the 2012 Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act and urge the House Committee on Agriculture to adopt the legislation in full. I want to commend the committee for working to create a balanced and bipartisan bill. The FARRM discussion draft, released by the committee, includes many commendable support mechanisms for farmers and ranchers. It takes finesse and old-fashioned hard work to build policy that provides a legitimate safety net.
"The farmers of Arkansas thank you for your efforts.”