D.C. Watch: Amendments swamp Senate farm bill

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The farm bill proposal has run into real problems in the Senate. Since the proposal has been brought to the Senate floor, more than 220 amendments have been filed and many of those proposed amendments have nothing to do with agriculture.

The Senate leaders need to set some limits on how many amendments can be considered and whether the amendments proposed need to be related to agricultural issues.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) wants to eliminate “non-germane” amendments. But Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) sees the farm bill as must-pass legislation, giving republicans an opportunity to pass items on their wish list. If the farm bill proposal moves forward, it will face major battles over regional differences, i.e. the concerns of some Senators that producers of crops in the South are not treated fairly, and funding for nutrition programs.

Assuming that the Senate’s farm bill proposal moves forward, despite the tangle of amendments that have been offered, a lot of debate will be focused on the crop insurance provisions. Amendments are pending that would limit crop insurance subsidies for farmers with high adjusted gross incomes, would limit crop insurance premiums for all farmers, and would tie conservation compliance to crop insurance eligibility.

A proposal to eliminate the proposed reduction in funding for food stamps would also affect crop insurance by offsetting the $4.5 billion over 10 years through unspecified reductions in money for crop insurance. The fate of all of these amendments is still up in the air.

The House of Representatives will return to work next week and members will take up the Agriculture Appropriations bill. One area of disagreement is the proposed cut in funding for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).

The subcommittee drafting the bill voted to cut the funding for CFTC by about 12% from this year’s allocation, despite the fact that the CFTC will be responsible for regulating the derivatives marketplace next year, in addition to the commodities markets. (The derivatives markets have a value more than eight times that of the commodity futures markets.)

The National Grain and Feed Foundation released a study last week recommending changes to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) that would bring more “prime farmland” back into production. According to the study, nearly 9 million acres currently in the CRP qualify as prime farmland which should return to production. High crop prices are causing the conversion of fragile grassland to crop production because higher quality land is tied up in the CRP. The study included several recommendations for legislative changes and changes in the way the program is administered.

It appears that Russia will become a full member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in August. That means that Russia will cut import tariffs sharply over the next few years. The U.S. Congress needs to lift the Jackson-Vanik provisions or U.S. exporters will continue to face high tariffs for products shipped to Russia.

Human rights advocates are calling for new legislation to address serious human rights violations in Russia. In the past, all sections of the Jackson-Vanik law were lifted when China and other centrally planned economies were granted permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) upon joining the WTO.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is encouraging farmers and ranchers to nominate someone for their local Farm Service Agency Committees. The nomination period begins June 15. To be eligible to serve on the committees a person must participate in an FSA program, be eligible to vote in a county committee election and live in the local administrative area. FSA committee members make decisions about disaster and conservation programs, emergency programs, price support programs, and other agricultural issues. Members serve three-year terms. The election for the committees will be held in November.



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