House and Senate Ag Committees Release Farm Bill Plans

May 1, 2024

Leaders of the House and Senate Ag committees announced dueling plans for a new farm bill Wednesday as the partisan impasse appeared to deepen ahead of the House panel’s planned votes on May 23.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., released the outline of a new farm bill that includes enhancements to commodity programs and crop insurance as well as a provision to prevent states from regulating animal welfare outside their borders

His Senate counterpart, Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., released a more detailed summary of a bill she's calling he Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act, that she told reporters Wednesday morning is intended to jump-start negotiations on a compromise. She said she had no plans to schedule committee action on the proposal.

"This is a well-thought-out farm bill that can pass," Stabenow said of her proposal. "It has strong provisions, bipartisan provisions, in it."

Her proposal would include modest changes to the primary commodity programs for row crops, Price Loss Coverage and Agriculture Risk Coverage, that could potentially increase PLC reference prices for cotton, rice and peanuts, and it also would make high levels of area-based crop insurance more affordable,

She dropped her plan to extend the STAX crop insurance policy to crops other than cotton. STAX provides top levels of coverage with higher premium subsidies, but farmers can’t enroll the same acreage in PLC and ARC. 

Her bill would instead increase the premium subsidy on the Supplemental Coverage Option to 80% and increase the coverage level to 88%.

Her bill also would for the first time provide permanent authorization for conservation programs, something crop insurance already has.

The measure would make some targeted changes to the escalator provision for PLC reference prices and reduce the threshold for triggering ARC payments.. The bill also would create a new escalator provision for marketing loan rates, which serve as a floor under prices for corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and other row crops.

Stabenow's bill is funded with $5 billion from an unidentified source that Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., helped her identify outside of her committee’s jurisdiction.

The dueling bills come as lawmakers remain at a partisan impasse in both chambers over how to fund the legislation, so it’s not clear what future the measures have.

The summary of the House bill said it would “increase support” for PLC and ARC “to account for persistent inflation and rising costs of production” and also authorize USDA to allow new base acres into the program. Stabenow's bill would allow "beginning and underserved" farmers to get base acres. 

Farmers can’t get PLC or ARC payments without base acres, which are determined by historical production patterns.

The House bill summary also hints that the bill contains increased crop insurance coverage, as Stabenow was trying to do with her STAX proposal. The bill “enhances certain coverage options to reduce the need for unbudgeted ad hoc disaster assistance,” the summary says. 

A provision clearly aimed at state laws like California’s Proposition 12, which sets housing standards for hogs and laying hens “clarifies that states and local governments cannot impose a condition or standard on the production of covered livestock unless the livestock is physically located within such state or local government.”

As reported previously, the bill would use funding from the Inflation Reduction Act but reallocate it across the conservation title, including the Conservation Reserve Program, which was omitted from the IRA, pushed through Congress by Democrats in 2022.

The conservation title would “modernize” CRP by “incentivizing enrollment of marginal lands and emphasizing state partnerships” and create a new Forest Conservation Easement Program, the summary says.

Stabenow's bill would bring the IRA conservation funding into the farm bill but, unlike Thompson's proposal, would keep intact the restrictions that the money be used for climate-related 

According to the House bill summary, that legislation also:

  • “Substantially increases” funding for the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Program, which fund efforts to boost overseas sales of U.S. commodities;
  • Modifies the reporting requirements in the Agriculture and Foreign Investment Disclosure Act “to ensure accuracy and transparency of data on farmland owned by foreign persons or entities;”
  • Funds research and development of automation for fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops, and increases funding for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative;
  • Increases crop insurance premium assistance for beginning farmers and veterans;
  • Reauthorizes and funds the Feral Swine Eradication Program.

"This bill is a product of an extensive and transparent process, which included soliciting feedback from members of both political parties, stakeholder input from across the nation, and some tough conversations,” Thompson said in a statement.

“Each title of this farm bill reflects a commitment to the American farmer and viable pathways to funding those commitments, and is equally responsive to the politics of the 118th Congress.”

The top Democrat on the House Ag Committee, David Scott, D-Ga., issued a statement rejecting the GOP proposal.

"By insisting on poison pill policies, Republicans have turned what could have been a genuinely bipartisan bill into a messaging exercise to appease their right flank that has no chance of becoming law," Scott said.

Other provisions in the Senate bill would:

  • Add a subtitle for specialty crops in the crop insurance title, “ensuring that specialty crop farmers have a voice in policy decisions;” The bill also would create a new advisory committee to "leverage the industry's expertise to prioritize specialty crops in the development and expansion of crop insurance policies."
  • Require milk producers to update production histories that are used for determining payments under the Dairy Margin Coverage program.
  • Make addressing climate change a specific goal of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program and adds a new focus on climate resilience in the Conservation Stewardship Program;
  • Earmark funding for small farms in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program;
  • Remove the lifetime ban on SNAP benefits for people convicted of drug felonies.

The Senate Ag Committee's top Republican, John Boozman of Arkansas, said in a statement that he welcomed the release of Stabenow's plan.

“My colleagues and I will be soliciting input from stakeholders as we consider these ideas alongside the approach we have constructed in our framework, which will be released after the House considers its bill in the coming weeks,” he said.

“With Chairwoman Stabenow releasing a framework that reflects Senate Democrats’ priorities, and Chairman Thompson’s work to advance legislation out of committee this month, I’m optimistic that real progress on the farm bill can still occur this Congress.”

Stabenow and House Ag Committee Democrats have balked at Thompson's proposals for funding the bill through restricting the future updates of the Thrifty Food Plan, a model of food costs used to determine Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits; removing climate guardrails on the IRA funding; and limiting USDA's use of the Commodity Credit Corporation spending authority.

Stabenow reiterated Wednesday that restricting TFP updates was a "hard red line."

Source: Agri-Pulse