The Senate passed the 2007 Farm Bill by a vote of 79-14 Friday afternoon, the largest margin of passage for a farm bill in more than 30 years. Reaction to the bill that the Senate produced has ranged the gambit from extreme praise to severe disappointment. Leading the way for those disappointed with the Senate bill was acting Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner.
"I am a firm believer in federal support of agriculture, and farmers and ranchers need a strong safety net that helps in years they need it most," Conner says. "However; the Senate-passed farm bill does not represent fiscal stewardship and lacks farm program reform."
Failure of the Senate to adopt several amendments that would have limited payments disappointed Conner. Stating concerns with both the House and Senate versions of the farm bill, Conner says the conference committee must come together and make substantial changes to the legislation that contains real reform.
"The House and the Senate have the power to make these changes," Conner says. "And I look forward to working with them to help get a good farm bill out of conference."
Joining the administration in opposition to the bill put forward by the Senate are the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Environmental Defense .
"We are extremely disappointed that Senate leaders threw away this historic opportunity," says Sara Hopper of Environmental Defense . "A clear majority of senators voted in favor of common-sense reforms, but the deck was stacked against them because the Senate leadership decided to require sixty votes for passage of reform amendments, rather than the usual simple majority."
Among the most vocal supporters of the Senate bill are the National Association of Wheat Growers, the National Corn Growers Association and the Western Organization of Resource Councils.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the National Wildlife Federation came down in the middle, praising parts of the legislation but voicing concern about others.
NCBA is pleased with the inclusion of House-language pertaining to interstate shipment of state-inspected meat and the improvements to the country-of-origin-labeling law, but want the conference to strip out the packer ban part of the legislation.
NWF sees the bill as a mixed bag. "While we are excited to see improvements to certain conservation programs," says Julie Sibbing, NWF's Senior Program Manager for Agriculture Policy, "We are disappointed that such a critical program as the Grassland Reserve Program would see a cut from the 2002 Farm Bill."
Basically the situation boils down to a House-Senate conference committee trying to reconcile their two versions of a farm bill in such a way to get a bill to the President that he will sign. The current versions have both been threatened with a veto without substantial changes.
Conference committee appointments are expected to be made this week and both House Agriculture Committee Chair Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Senate Ag Chair Tom Harkin, D-Iowa say a conference bill can be completed by the end of January.