In anticipation of the full Senate debating a new farm bill, Senate Agriculture Committee leadership is optimistic the 60 votes needed to pass the legislation are lined up.

The votes are not “in question,” said Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, during a Monday press conference. “These days in the Senate there are larger issues involved with leaders in terms of negotiating other bills coming up and so on. But, yes, we have the 60 votes to proceed. … I can’t specifically tell you if we’ll go directly to the bill and a cloture motion, and when. But we’re fully prepared this week and fully anticipate moving forward.”

Stabenow – touting “the most significant reform in agricultural policy in decades” -- also remains open to “ideas” from the South about farm bill concerns. However, that openness was tempered by her claims that analyses of the proposed legislation show that if it had been in place earlier, the South – particularly rice producers – would have seen greater benefits.  

The analyses “indicate that in addition to crop insurance – which is obviously very important to the change to risk-based efforts and tools – the ARC (Agriculture Risk Coverage) program modeling shows that (it) is fair for all commodities. In fact, the ARC program would have provided substantial protection for American producers during the market collapse of the late 1990s. That’s the last multi-year, low-price period for producers. In fact, we can show that using a five-year Olympic average … would have substantially cushioned and smoothed out the private marketplace for producers…

“Interestingly, we have a report that shows ARC would have provided approximately the same level of price protection for virtually all our commodities, except for rice, which would, in fact, have received more support. When we look at concerns – and we certainly appreciate and want to be fair to all regions of the country – with the FAPRI report we actually see similar levels of price protection under ARC. The one place it’s different is with rice, which would get even more price protection.”

For more on the FAPRI report, see here.

In a Tuesday morning press release, Stabenow’s claims were rubbished by USA Rice Producers’ Group Chair Linda Raun. Touting new analysis (see here) by Carl Zulauf, an Ohio State University economist, Raun said “I hope producers and lawmakers also read the recently released FAPRI (Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute) analysis. I know some have cherry-picked that analysis to make it conform to their talking points that the ARC program is equitable to all crops and regions, but the analysis does not say that. In fact, it actually points out the disproportionate budget hit that wheat, rice and peanuts take.” 

See more on the rice group here.

Stabenow said she’d spoken with a “wide variety” of rice growers the last week of May. “They were just asking us to continue the current program. … We told them we’re open to ideas.

“But I should say that since that conversation, we’ve gotten a couple of different analyses from very credible folks. (Those) show something that the rice and peanut folks will be surprised about. When we look, for instance, for the five-year rolling average for price protection under ARC, that kind of approach does better for rice than any of the other commodities.

“So, as we get information out, we want to talk about any legitimate concerns and differences. But it needs to be based on a risk management model. In the past, everyone has said ‘We’ve gotten 10 percent of the baseline’ … and they designed a program to get X amount of taxpayer dollars regardless of risk or circumstance.

“We’re not doing that. That’s the difference. We’re not saying ‘this is about your piece of the pie in terms of a government check.’ This is about making sure we absolutely have a program that works when you have a risk. … If times are (good) and prices are high, with the huge deficit in this country, we can’t afford to just give a government check.”

AEI study, booting gamers

What about the American Enterprise Institute study that says the proposed Senate farm bill could cost more than current programs?

See more on the AEI study here.

“The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) looked over a 10-year period,” said Stabenow. “When they look at the policies (in the Senate bill), it shows we save $15 billion.

“Two things have been reported in the last week. One is a specific analysis of the ARC program. One is a more general analysis of what happens under a five-year Olympic average during price declines. There’s been a lot of concern that there’s no price protection in a price decline.

“I’m looking right at a chart that shows in 1990s, when there was the dip, the five-year Olympic price average would not have dipped as much. In fact, it would have maintained and more gently gone down rather than send farmers off a cliff.

“Over time, the Olympic average, over time, actually does better for the South than other areas in terms of rice. The ARC program is about the same.”

Stabenow insisted the farm bill is also a jobs bill. “We talk about a lot of about jobs bills but I don’t know of too many that affect as many as the farm bill. Sixteen million Americans are, in some way, dependent on agriculture.

“Agriculture has really been a bright spot in our economy and the underpinning of our economic recovery. That’s why we want to move forward as quickly as possible.”

U.S. agriculture, said Stabenow, is “one of the only sectors of the economy with a trade surplus totaling $42.5 billion in 2011. That’s the highest annual surplus on record. Farmers exported $136 billion worth of goods last year – a 270 percent increase over the last 10 years. … For every $1 billion in agricultural exports, we actually create about 8,400 American jobs.”

As for other reforms in the bill, “we tightened payment limits – in fact, cut them in half from the last farm bill.

“We closed the ‘manager’s loophole’ so only farmers can receive farm payments, not someone sitting in a city office somewhere who’s never set foot on a farm. (Such people) may be gaming the system by calling themselves a farm manager. (Under the new bill), managers have to be on the farm, farming.”