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Agriculture News As It Happens

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Growers push amendment while conservatives, SNAP advocates protest farm bill

With amendments to the farm bill due at the House Rules Committee by 2 p.m. Monday and the bill expected on the House floor midweek, groups have started lobbying on amendments and making their final arguments on the bill.

In a letter to House members on Thursday, the American Soybean Association, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Sunflower Association and the U.S. Canola Association urged quick passage, but also urged support of an amendment sponsored by Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, that would change the Price Loss Coverage section to set reference prices at a percentage of recent average market prices, which do not exceed production costs.

The Gibbs amendment would also provide for payments on historical crop acreage bases rather than on current-year plantings.

“These changes would make the PLC program more market-oriented and significantly reduce the risk of distorting planting decisions and production,” the groups wrote. “They would also reduce the likelihood of the program violating U.S. commitments under the WTO. Moreover, they would achieve an estimated $10 billion in savings in addition to the committee bill.”

Jeff Scott

Jeff Scott

The groups said they are concerned that in its current form, the bill’s Price Loss Coverage program option would set high, fixed reference prices for program crops which, in some cases, exceed their historical prices and cost of production; and tie payments to producers to crops they grow in the current year, which could distort planting decisions and production if market prices fall below their support levels.

“There has been a lot of time, effort, and investment put into establishing an infrastructure for alternative crops such as canola and sunflowers, and we are very concerned that tying reference prices to current year plantings could negate years of work,” stated U.S. Canola Association Vice President Jeff Scott, a farmer from Pond Creek, Okla.

Kevin Capistran

Kevin Capistran

“When and if prices collapse, farmers will choose the crop with the least risk and highest support price. Bottom line, we would prefer to have the markets dictate what gets planted rather than a government support price,” added National Sunflower Association President Kevin Capistran, a farmer from Crookston, Minn.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., have said that the target prices need to be updated in line with current market prices and production costs. Supporters of shifting payments to a basis of current-year plantings have said that the historical crop acreages are way out of date.

The Environmental Working Group released a study today that argues that the new Price Loss Coverage program could cost nearly $20 billion more than the programs it would replace.

The report, written by Nick Paulson, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, argues that that the new program would fix crop prices at levels high enough to trigger far larger payments than the current counter-cyclical program and direct payment programs.

Earlier this week, Vincent Smith, a Montana State University professor who is a consultant to the American Enterprise Institute said that the savings in the House farm bill are a “fake” because the new program exposes taxpayers to losses if crop prices revert to long-run averages.

Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group, announced today that it will urge a “No” vote on the farm bill and will include the vote in its congressional scorecard.

“This is a trillion-dollar boondoggle that fails to make any meaningful changes to food and farm programs,” the group said.

Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind.

Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind.
Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., said in a call to reporters Thursday that he would try to separate the food stamp program from the farm program.

“My focus right now is to convince leadership that we need a vote to separate the bills,” Stutzman said, according to a report in the Fort Wayne, Ind., Journal Gazette.

“I’m working to have an amendment or some sort of procedure to separate the bills,” he said. ‘There are a lot of folks who are interested in voting for it. I think you’ll find a lot of support for it.”

The call with Stutzman was organized by the Heritage Foundation.

Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga.

Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga.
Earlier this week, 25 House members sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., urging that the farm program and the food stamp program be separated into two bills.

The letter, which was initiated by Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., said that substantial changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as SNAP or food stamps, would not be made while SNAP and the farm program are linked.

Ten Democratic House members scheduled a news conference today on Capitol Hill to protest the bill’s $20.5 billion cut to SNAP.

In a news release, the members noted that almost 30 members of Congress have committed to taking part in a “SNAP challenge” by living on the food budget of an average SNAP recipient, just $4.50 a day.

Members scheduled to attend the news conference included Barbara Lee of California, Joe Crowley of New York, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Robin Kelly of Illinois, Jared Huffman of California, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, Doris Matsui of California, and Jim Langevin of Rhode Island.