D.C. Watch: Ag funding in limbo

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Congressional Agriculture Committees failed to deliver specific farm bill proposals to the super committee as promised by their Nov. 1 deadline. Ag Committee leaders had told the super committee that they would provide details on how they would cut $23 billion in farm program spending over the next ten years, but that crafting the specifics turned out to be harder than they had expected. Committee leaders still plan to deliver a plan but time is running short.

The super committee has to deliver its own comprehensive proposal to Congress by November 23 and they need to get it to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) at least a week ahead of that for the CBO to evaluate how much the plan will actually reduce the deficits.

Since there is no agreement among Agriculture Committee leaders, it is impossible to know what will finally be proposed by way of cuts. Reports indicate that “shallow loss” programs are being actively discussed. These policies would kick in when producers’ revenue falls below “normal” by a certain percentage, to partially cover the gap between “normal” revenue and the point where crop insurance comes into play. Several farm groups have proposed policies that would replace the current direct and counter-cyclical payments with other revenue protection. But the country’s largest farm group, The American Farm Bureau Federation, is pushing for adjustments to the programs, not elimination. Then there are other groups complaining they are being left out of the debates completely.

The lack of cohesion in the farm sector makes it difficult for members of Congress to craft legislation that will meet the varying needs and wishes of different farmer constituencies.

The Senate passed a “minibus” bill that would provide funding for the Agriculture Department and several other departments for fiscal 2012. The House passed bills to fund these departments several months ago, so now the bills go to a House-Senate conference committee to work out differences. And there are a lot of differences! The House bill provides less money than the Senate bill for several conservation programs and has a rider barring USDA from implementing the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Act (GIPSA) rules USDA has been considering for the past year.

The current continuing resolution provides funding for government operations through Nov. 18. There is little chance Congress will pass bills funding all 12 departments of the government by then. The Senate did not take up legislation that would have blocked a court-mandated EPA rule that requires pesticide applicators to obtain permits under the Clean Water Act. The new requirement went into effect Nov. 1. The House passed a bill blocking the permit requirement last March and the Senate Agriculture Committee approved the measure in September. But the full Senate never brought the bill up for consideration. The new permitting requirement could affect about 5.6 million pesticide applications per year.

The free-trade agreement between South Korea and the U.S. faces stiff opposition from the Korean Democratic Party. The ruling GNP has a comfortable parliamentary majority but has been unwilling to push the trade bill through ahead of elections next year. Farmers in South Korea generally oppose the bill, saying the agreement threatens their livelihood. The agreement is expected to be approved, but it may take awhile.

USDA announced payments totaling $44.6 million to 156 advanced biofuels producers. The money comes through the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels program. Payments are made to support and ensure an expanding production of advanced biofuels. Biofuel producers using cellulose, crop residue, animal, food and yard waste material, vegetable oil and animal fat are eligible for payments under this program.



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