Ag Committee Recommendations to Super Committee Provide Framework for 2012 Farm Bill

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Washington, DC, November 29, 2011 | comments

Over the past several months, the Super Committee was busy putting together long term debt and deficit packages that included drastic, uninformed reductions to agriculture, nutrition, and conservation programs.  Initial debt reduction proposals extracted a disproportionate level of cuts from agriculture related programs to the tune of $30-40 billion with little regard to the policy implications.  In addition, the Agriculture Committee was given no credit for stepping up and reducing costs by $6 billion last year in crop insurance programs when other committees produced little or no savings to help with our national debt picture.  As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, we worked diligently with our Senate counterparts to craft a more informed and rational Farm Bill component for the Super Committee recommendations.  Although the farm bill was not expected to be introduced until 2012, the debt discussions forced our hand earlier than anticipated.

The House and Senate Agriculture Committee chairs and ranking members have been meeting over the last couple months, with input from committee members like me, to put together a Farm Bill that improves on the 2008 Bill and provides for $23 billion in deficit reduction on top of last year's reductions.  This was obviously a difficult task, but the committees rose to the occasion.  Our recommendations completely eliminate costly and outdated direct farm payments, and millionaires are no longer eligible for any payments under the production agriculture title.  The crop insurance title is strengthened -- albeit with some pretty low thresholds for commodity growers to get help -- representing a trade off for eliminating direct payments.  We replace the current price support and milk income loss programs that have failed us in the past.  We establish a new voluntary dairy safety net that provides margin based assistance for producers focused on feed costs and the all milk price, while encouraging producers to scale back production when there is a market surplus.  These changes will save taxpayers over $15 billion over the next ten years.

The over 20 duplicative and overlapping conservation programs are scaled back to ten in five different groups.  EQIP remains largely the same, but with a greater focus on wildlife habitat and is included with CSP, CIG in the Working Lands section.  All the regional programs will compete under Regional Partnerships section.  With the high crop prices we have been experiencing, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is seeing less land "re-upped" for set aside, so a step down in the acreage cap from 32 to 25 million acres is proposed saving almost $6 billion with the consolidated efficiencies. 

The Specialty Crops title is extremely important to the state of Oregon and a top priority of mine.  Specialty Crops represent nearly 50 percent of farm-gate nationwide, but receives only a fraction of the funding under the current Farm Bill. Specialty Crops received its first mandatory funding in the last Farm Bill, and we successfully lobbied for additional funding under this title, receiving a $1 billion increase.  The farmer's market program expands to food development centers, similar to food hubs, getting $100 million over five years.  Pest and disease management receive $615 million over 10 years.  The specialty crop block grant formula ensures states get credit for high value crops and production at $70 million per year.  Organic data and technology initiatives get mandatory spending, organic certification costs go down, and organic research receives $80 billion over 10 years.  Finally, $400 million in mandatory funding over 10 years is provided for specialty crop research.

Oregon farmers and those most in need did very well in this draft of the Farm Bill given the current budget climate.  Although the Super Committee failed to reach a deal, the extensive work done by the House and Senate Agriculture Committees will serve as a template and likely to be the starting point for any Farm Bill discussion next year.  With your help we'll work to keep our gains and hopefully strengthen the areas that still need improvement.

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