The 2012 Farm Bill passed through the Senate Agriculture Committee today 16-4 as amended and is credited to "reducing the deficit by $23 billion dollars," according to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chairwoman of the committee. Included in the bill is the elimination of direct payments and an inclusion of risk management options intended to help farmers in times of crisis.
"We’ve listened to farmers, strengthened crop insurance and made that the centerpiece of risk management," Stabenow said. "We have a risk management tool that supplements crop insurance that will work for farmers and save money."
The passing of the bill comes after canceling and rescheduling the Farm Bill Mark-Up, which took place this morning. Jim Wiesemeyer of Informa Economics said that type of chaos is typical for such a large bill. The Farm Bill that passed through the committee this morning was around 900 pages long and several portions were not sitting well with lawmakers, but the committee wanted to get it finished before next week’s recess, Wiesemeyer said.
"They wanted to try to soothe the concerns of southern state lawmakers, which they did not because most of them voted against it," he said. "Even some of the northern tier states wanted to juice up the ag risk coverage program. They got what they wanted."
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said of the bill, "This is not the best possible bill, but the best bill possible in the current circumstances." However, despite Roberts optimism there is much controversy over the impartiality of the passed bill.
"This is one of the most inequitable Farm Bills I’ve seen in a while, tilted to corn and soybean farmers," Wiesemeyer said. "It definitely impacts rice, cotton and peanut farmers negatively. So, we’ll see what the House says about that."
Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) expressed serious concern about the commodity title, saying that the bill would be "devastating" for southern producers if passed as it is currently written.
American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman said that while the bill isn’t perfect, it is a step in the right direction. "Certainly, having a bill in place this year is in the best interest of all farmers," he said. Stallman said Stabenow and Roberts deserve praise for all of their hard work and that he seeks continued improvements to the bill, including "how to provide more equity among commodities, and ways to better address deep, catastrophic losses."
What's Still Ahead
Wiesemeyer reminded farmers that the ride isn’t over yet. "Getting out of the Senate Ag Committee is just the first step," he said. The key will be what amendments are offered while the bill is in the hands of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on the Senate floor, Wiesemeyer said. While we won’t see substantial changes made to the bill until it gets to the House, Wiesemeyer said, "We’ve got many hurdles to jump before we get a Farm Bill."