Final version of farm bill reflects state’s priorities


Issue Date: January 29, 2014
By Christine Souza

The end could be near in the struggle to pass a federal farm bill, as House and Senate negotiators announced agreement Monday on a new five-year bill that conference committee members said would "reform agriculture programs, reduce the deficit and help farmers, ranchers and business owners grow the economy."

Floor votes in the House and Senate could take place this week, sending the bill to President Obama.

The California Farm Bureau Federation said the conference committee report removes a farm bill amendment that would have harmed California egg producers and other farmers, and retains programs to benefit animal health, air quality and pest prevention. CFBF said top priorities for California farmers and ranchers appeared to have been achieved in the bill.

"This has been a long negotiation on the farm bill and it's now time for Congress to support the final bill and send it to the president," CFBF President Paul Wenger said.

Wenger noted that, with California suffering from severe drought, the bill would also restore programs intended to help farmers and ranchers through such emergencies.

"We're pleased to see the proposed farm bill include emergency livestock assistance and other programs," Wenger said. "And we urge quick action to restore and distribute it to farmers and ranchers who qualify for it."

One of the most controversial aspects of the bill was an amendment offered by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that would have prevented California and other states from setting customized standards for foods and agricultural products. The amendment—which was not included in the conference committee bill—was directed specifically at California law that will require imported eggs sold in the state to meet Proposition 2 hen-housing standards.

"Although the debate about the King amendment focused on eggs, the amendment threatened other state-specific standards to prevent pests and diseases that threaten California crops," Wenger said. "This issue should be settled in court and not through broad legislation that would have had far-reaching impacts."

Wenger also expressed satisfaction with funding in the farm bill for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network; for specialty crop programs that focus on research, marketing and pest-and-disease prevention for fruit, vegetable, nut and nursery crops; and for dedicated air-quality funding.

"The Air Quality Initiative shares costs with farmers and ranchers who are working to meet strict air-quality standards in California and many other states," he said. "It represents an important commitment to help farmers achieve meaningful stewardship successes."

Regarding federal dairy programs, the conference committee agreement indicates that a dairy gross margin insurance program would be implemented, but without a supply management feature. Instead, each dairy producer would have a base assigned at the highest level of his or her production in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Indemnities would be paid on any production up to base. If a producer increases his or her marketings, only 25 percent of the indemnity would be paid above the base amount. For example, if a dairy producer's base was 3 million pounds and he produced 3.2 million pounds in 2014, he would receive indemnities on the 3 million pounds and 25 percent of the indemnities on the remainder.

There is also a transition period whereby premiums would be significantly reduced for the first two years for those producing less than 4 million pounds of milk. In addition, a new "Section 32 type" program would be implemented and the U.S. Department of Agriculture would be required to purchase excess product if the margin falls below $4 for two consecutive months.

The farm bill conference report also stipulates that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, would take a reduction in funding of about $8.6 billion. The cuts were primarily achieved by boosting the minimum threshold for low-income fuel assistance to food stamp households.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.