The Senate Agriculture Committee passed the “Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012” (farm bill) by a vote of 16-5. The bill cuts $23 billion from the current baseline during fiscal years 2013 to 2022. The cuts include eliminating direct payments, eliminating duplication by consolidating programs and cracking down on food assistance abuse. The bill places greater emphasis on strengthening risk management options for producers. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), chairwoman of the committee, said, “The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 will save taxpayers billions of dollars while promising a safe and healthy national food supply. By eliminating duplication and streamlining and consolidating programs, we were able to continue investing in initiatives that help farmers and small businesses create jobs. This bill proves that by working across party lines, we can save taxpayer money and create smart, cost-effective policies that lay the foundation for a stronger, more prosperous economy.” Senators representing cotton, rice and peanuts still have major concerns with the bill and, thus, voted no. According to the Committee the bill:
· Eliminates Direct Payments while Strengthening Risk Management – Farmers will no longer be paid for crops they are not growing, will not be paid for acres that are not actually planted and will not receive support absent a drop in price or yields. The bill consolidates two remaining farm programs into one, and will give farmers the ability to tailor risk management coverage, thus providing better protection against real risks beyond a farmer’s control. It also strengthens crop insurance and expands access so farmers are not wiped out by a few days of bad weather.
· Consolidates and Streamlines Programs – By ending duplication and consolidating programs, the bill eliminates dozens of programs under the Agriculture Committee’s jurisdiction. ◦For example, the bill consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13 programs, while maintaining the existing tools farmers and landowners need to protect and conserve land, water and wildlife.
· Improves Program Integrity and Accountability – Increases the accountability in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by:
o Stopping lottery winners from continuing to receive assistance.
o Ending misuse by college students.
o Cracking down on retailers and recipients engaged in benefit trafficking.
o Increasing requirements to prevent liquor and tobacco stores from becoming retailers.
o Eliminating gaps in standards that result in overpayment of benefits.
o The proposal maintains benefits for families in need.
· Grows America’s Agricultural Economy – Expand export opportunities and help farmers develop new markets for their goods. Invest in research to help commercialize new agricultural innovations. Grow bio-based manufacturing (businesses-producing goods in America from raw agricultural products grown in America) by allowing bio-manufacturers to participate in existing U.S. Department of Agriculture loan programs, expanding the “bio-preferred” labeling initiative and strengthening a procurement preference so the U.S. government will select bio-based products when purchasing needed goods. Spur advancements in bio-energy production, supporting advanced biomass energy production, such as cellulosic ethanol and pellets from woody biomass for power. Help family farmers sell locally by increasing support for farmers’ markets and spurring the creation of food hubs to connect farmers to schools and other community-based consumers. Extend rural development initiatives to help rural communities upgrade infrastructure and create an environment for small businesses to grow.