With Mixed Seeds, the 2012 Farm Bill Is Still Waiting for the Political Harvest

By: Tom Ahmadifar

Every five years, a piece of legislation emerges from Congress that affects us all. The Farm Bill sets national agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and forestry policy. Although it touches on many things, its foremost policies are subsidy payments for commodity crops such as corn and soybean, food assistance programs, funding for research, and wilderness management. It provides hundreds of billions of dollars to low-income people, farmers and researchers alike. Yet with so much at stake, the 2012 Farm Bill has gone the way of many other important pieces of legislation in the 112th Congress: false starts, small victories, and disagreement and discord between the two chambers and within political parties.

The current Farm Bill is set to expire on September 30, 2012. Passed in 2008, it authorized over $600 billion in spending over ten years with sixty-four percent going to food assistance programs, fifteen percent to commodity, and nine percent to conservation. Yet there is no replacement in place less than two months it expires.

There have been some positive steps towards passing a 2012 Farm Bill. On June 21, 2012, the Senate passed its version of a 2012 Farm Bill. S.3240, titled the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012 (ARFJA), ends the long-standing direct payments program, attempts to strengthen crop insurance, and encourages a new risk management approach. Among many other things, ARFJA also takes steps to eliminate loopholes for fraud in food assistance programs, and provides funding for research and for the production of organic food.

The House of Representatives has not been quite as successful as their counterparts. On July 13, 2012, the House Agriculture Committee passed out H.R. 6083 entitled the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act of 2012. FARRM does several things similar to ARFJA. Like ARFJA, FARRM also ends direct payments, funds a rural economic development program, and provides funding for organic and local food agriculture. However, among many differences, FARRM raises the amount of commodity payments any one farm can receive, does not try to close loopholes in food assistance programs, does not provide protections against the destruction of grasslands, repeals livestock and poultry fair competition and tract reforms implemented in the 2008 Farm Bill, and funds a program socially disadvantaged farming program that ARFJA does not.

Despite the House Agriculture Committee passing out FARRM, House Republican leadership has not brought the bill to the floor of the House for a full debate and a vote. Without much time, and with political pressure to show some progress, the House Rules Committee posted a one-year Extension Bill to the 2008 Farm Bill on July 27, 2012. The One-Year Extension bill cut more than $760 million from mandatory conservation programs, spent $5 billion on direct payments and did not provide mandatory funding for assistance programs.

The House pulled the one-year Extension Bill on July 31, 2012 and instead passed a stand alone Disaster Bill on August 3, 2012 that included pieces of the House Committee’s 2012 Farm Bill. The Disaster Bill cuts $639 million from some farm and food assistance programs in order to provide $383 million in disaster aid to livestock producers and fruit growers.

With the Senate already having passed its version of the Farm Bill, and the House unable to bring its version to the floor, the September 30, 2012 expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill looms large. Having the 2008 Farm Bill expire without a replacement has many potentially disastrous ramifications because it would mean a loss of appropriations for many programs critical to farmers’ livelihoods and people’s survival as well as a missed opportunity to set the direction of long-term farming and conservation policy. The magnitude of the Farm Bill and the pressures of reelection in November will likely mean that at the very least that there will be some sort of extension of the 2008 Farm Bill. Yet, even that would fall short because an extension, like the one posted by the House, will likely maintain programs such as direct payments that have proven to be inefficient and have been eliminated in both the House Committee’s and the Senate’s versions of the 2012 Farm Bill. And, regardless of whether the House passes its own version, or whether Congress falls back on an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, both the House and the Senate will still need to reconcile their many points of difference before anything can go to President Barack Obama by September 30; no small feat.

There is no shortage of critics on the 2012 Farm Bill, but currently, the only true enemies of Congress are itself and time.

Sources

Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, U.S. Senate Comm. on Agric., Nutrition & Forestry, http://www.ag.senate.gov/issues/farm-bill/ (last visited August 10, 2012).

Christine Fry & Heather Wooten, ‘Complete Eats’ Legislation: The Farm Bill and Food Systems Planning, 64 Am. Planning Ass’n: Planning & Envtl L. 3 (2012).

House Farm Bill Extension Would Hurt Farmers and Economy, Undermine Conservation Efforts, Nat’l Sustainable Agric. Coal.(July 27, 2012), http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/house-farm-bill-extension/.

H.R. 6083, Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act, U.S. House of Representatives Comm. on Agric., http://agriculture.house.gov/bill/hr-6083-federal-agriculture-reform-and-risk-management-act (last visited on Aug. 10, 2012).

Jake Sherman, GOP Leaders May Squash Farm Bill, Poliico (July 13, 2012, 6:28 AM), http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0712/78460.html.

Jim Langcuster, Clearer Farm Bill Picture Beginning to Emerge, Se. Farm Press (Aug. 9, 2012, 9:24 AM), http://southeastfarmpress.com/government/clearer-farm-bill-picture-beginning-emerge.

Marion Nestle, The Senate Passed its Version of the Farm Bill. Now What?, Food Politics Blog (June 22, 2012), http://www.foodpolitics.com/2012/06/the-senate-passed-its-version-of-the-farm-bill-now-what/.

National Association of Wheat Growers, Farmers Praise Senate Passage of 2012 Farm Bill, Natural Res. Report (July 23, 2012), http://naturalresourcereport.com/2012/06/farmers-priase-senate-passage-of-2012-farm-bill/.

NSAC Comments on House Farm Bill Extension Bill, Nat’l Sustainable Agric. Coal. (July 27, 2012), http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/nsac-comments-on-house-farm-bill-extension-bill/.

Path to the 2012 Farm Bill: House Passes Stand-Alone Disaster Bill, Nat’l Sustainable Agric. Coal. (Aug. 3, 2012), http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/house-passes-disaster-bill/.

Path to the 2012 Farm Bill: NSAC Assessment of House Committee-Passed Bill, Nat’l Sustainable Agric. Coal. (July 12, 2012), http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/nsac-assessment-of-house-bill/.

U.S. Senate Comm. on Agric., Nutrition & Forestry, Agric. Reform, Food and Jobs Act Summary (2012)

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