Farm groups Thursday welcomed the Senate Agriculture Committee's release of the 2013 Farm Bill draft, which appears in many ways to be similar to last year's Senate-passed bill.
Overall, the bill is projected to cut $23 billion from the deficit over 10 years, the same amount that was estimated in the senate's FY14 budget.
Hot-button issues such as crop insurance, SNAP reform, conservation streamlining and disaster relief were highlighted in groups' comments and in a summary of the bill provided by Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
Eliminating direct payments
A key portion of the 2013 Farm Bill will be the elimination of direct payments, according to Stabenow. Changes to crop programs are expected to account for $16 billion in savings.
The proposed changes would cap leftover risk management support following the end of direct payments at $50,000 per person. Additionally, requirements would be more stringent as to ensure farm payments are not distributed to non-farmers via the "management loophole."
Crop insurance and disaster relief provisions will also be strengthened, Stabenow's proposal said.
SNAP changes ahead
According to the Ag Committee's summary, the bill would eliminate Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program loopholes by stopping lottery winners from receiving benefits, preventing states from disseminating SNAP benefits via home heating assistance, cutting down on retailer fraud and preventing tobacco and alcohol purchases with SNAP benefits.
There has been speculation that SNAP cuts will be a point of contention between House and Senate lawmakers, given the disparity between the House's projected $20 billion in cuts from nutrition programs alone – according to a recent Tulsa World interview with Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla. – and the $4 billion that surfaced in last year's Senate Farm Bill.
Sen. Stabenow's summary, however, notes that the eliminating the outlined loopholes will provide savings without eliminating support for food banks, seniors' food programs and healthy school lunch initiatives.
Senate Ag Committee Member Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Tuesday vowed to fully fund the SNAP program and restore any cuts to the program, along with the support of nearly one-third of the senate body.
Dairy provisions included
Dairy groups have sparred over potential dairy programs in the next farm bill. The senate draft version does include a National Milk Producers Federation-supported provision, called the "Dairy Security Act."
The DSA includes a margin price support program as well as a Dairy Market Stabilization Program, what opponents have called "supply management."
The DMSP aspect of the DSA would require farmers to reflect market signals by either limiting production or take a milk check deduction. This mechanism, NMPF has said, would keep prices afloat for dairy farmers.
Dairy processors such as the International Dairy Foods Association, however, have proposed a similar program that does not include DMSP. It is expected that amendments will be brought forward to remove the DMSP component, according to the IDFA.
The senate ag committee draft consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into just 13, centered on four primary functions: working lands conservation, the Conservation Reserve Program, regional partnerships, and easements to prevent urban sprawl.
The CRP acreage cap is gradually reduced from 30 million acres to 25 million acres, and overall the conservation title remains relatively similar to last year's bill.
The draft bill also reauthorizes some programs that were left out of the extension last fall, including the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.
A variety of other programs to enhance rural interests, improve farmers' access to capital, promote Veterans' training in agriculture and focus on bio-based energy production were included in the draft as well.
The National Farmers Union was pleased with many of the additions, including an energy title that includes $800 million in mandatory funding for rural energy programs and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program.
The current Farm Bill – an extension of the 2008 bill – expires Sept. 30, 2013. Sen. Stabenow said approximately 16 million jobs rely on the Farm Bill, and a new bill must be passed this year "to provide farmers the certainty they need to keep driving our economic recovery."
Though an unofficial markup date of May 15 has been circulated for the House's version of a 2013 Farm Bill, the Ag Committee on Thursday made the date official.