D.C. Watch: Senate to debate farm bill

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Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., expects the farm bill proposal passed by her committee to be brought up for floor debate in early June.

There will probably be a lot of amendments offered and debated. These will include efforts to cut the SNAP (food stamp) program, tighten payment limits, restore target prices and link conservation compliance to crop insurance participation, among others. Senator Stabenow claims to have the 60 votes needed to pass the farm bill, but other observers aren’t so sure. The debate in the Senate should be very interesting.

It appears that the House farm bill proposal will be significantly different from the Senate bill. The House bill, which has not yet been written, is expected to retain the target price – counter cyclical payment system (at least for some crops) and make much deeper cuts to food and nutrition programs instead. Ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., thinks the bills in both houses must be passed by early August to be approved yet this year. That’s a critical deadline because the current farm bill expires September 30th of this year!

The Senate Agriculture Committee-passed farm bill proposal replaces direct and counter cyclical payments with a new Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) program.

ARC would generally make payments when revenue falls by about 11% below the benchmark level with a part of the losses covered for the next 10% decline in revenue. And analysis by the University of Illinois warns that ARC payments will decline over time of we have several years of low prices, because the benchmark revenue will gradually be reduced. If that happens, production costs would need to decline for crop production to remain profitable. A report from the University of Montana shows that the ARC program could cost a lot more money than currently forecast if crop prices fall to recent historical averages.

USDA is investing $32 million in watershed improvement projects throughout the Mississippi River Basin. A large part of the money will go towards wetlands restoration along the southern portion of the Mississippi river. The $32 million will be used on five water quality and wetlands improvement projects with most of the money for projects in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Landowners interested in applying for funding should contact their local National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office.

Don’t forget, the deadline to sign up for the 2012 direct payment, counter-cyclical payment and ACRE programs is June 1. You must sign up every year to be eligible for these programs. You can sign up online at www.fsa.usda.gov/dep or you can go to your nearest Farm Service Agency office.

The general economic outlook is improving, at least a little, according to a survey by the National Association for Business Economists. (Misgivings about demand in general have been a recurring factor in commodity price action on any given day.) The average growth rate forecast by the 54 economists surveyed for 2012 is 2.4 percent with the growth rate increasing to 2.8 percent in 2013. Job growth for 2012 is expected to average 188,000 per month this year followed by 200,000 next year. Both the forecasts for the growth rate for the economy and the number of jobs created are higher than when the survey was conducted in February.

A lawsuit has been filed in U.S. District Court in DC that would put an end to the use of filibusters in the Senate. With the routine use of the filibuster in the Senate, it now requires 60 votes for the Senate to even consider almost any bill (including a farm bill, for example) and 60 votes to pass them. The lawsuit, brought by Common Cause, contends that the filibuster, as used today, is a tactic that prevents the Senate from even considering any piece of legislation with which the minority disagrees. However, the chances that the courts will end the
filibuster tactic are pretty slim.



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