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Farm Bill Update – the Committee Drafts are in

Last week we told you that the Senate and House Agriculture Committees were having their respective committee markup sessions, where the committees wrote a basic draft of the Farm Bill. 

A House Agriculture Committee meeting, photo courtesy of Ag Committee web site.
A House Agriculture Committee meeting, photo courtesy of Ag Committee web site.

Here’s a quick recap on the process: the Chairs and Ranking Members of each committee putting together an initial draft and presenting it to the members of the Ag committees.  Then they went through long debates and votes as amendments were added (This is where the Young Farmers Coalition was working to ensure amendments that support the work of beginning farmers were included.) 

Finally, the finished drafts will go before the entire House and Senate for debate.  You can see a complete list of amendments and their outcome on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s (NSAC) Amendment Tracker.

NSAC was on the ground throughout the process, and has released an initial analysis of how each facet of programs were affected.  For beginning farmers, this is their report:

Although there were several amendments filed by Sen. Harkin (D-IA) to expand credit and new farmer training programs for new farmers, none were ultimately offered or voted on by the Senate Agriculture Committee after being rejected for inclusion in the manager’s amendment..  We expect some of these issues to be reintroduced on the Senate floor, such as one championed by Sens. Harkin and Casey (D-PA) last year to establish a microloan program targeted to beginning and veteran farmers.

An amendment offered by Sen. Baucus (D-MT) to include a priority on veteran farmers and ranchers within the Value-Added Producer Grants Program and the Conservation Reserve Transition Incentives Program was accepted into the manager’s amendment.  We were also pleased to see increased funding levels for the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program in the Chairwoman’s mark.  The $10 million a year funding, while still just half of the level from the last farm bill, is twice the funding as was included in the Senate bill last year.  In addition to Chairwoman Stabenow, thanks for the increase are also due to Sen. Hagan (D-NC).

Beginning farmers fared better on average in the underlying House Committee bill, including increased funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, now at $20 million a year, or twice the level the House Committee bill included last year.  Chairman Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Peterson (D-MN) agreed to that increase in the underlying bill.  although the set-aside for socially disadvantaged farmers and farmworkers is still eliminated – an issue NSAC hopes will be addressed on the House floor or in conference.

Rep. Gibson discussing the need for improving Farm Bill programs for beginning farmers.
Rep. Gibson discussing the need for improving Farm Bill programs for beginning farmers.

Beginning farmer champion Rep. Gibson (R-NY) offered an amendment during House markup to raise the maximum loan amount on direct farm ownership loans to keep pace with farmland inflation, and several members spoke in support of doing whatever is needed to expand opportunities for new farmers, including Reps. Kuster (D-NH), Maloney (D-NY), and Walz (D-MN).  This amendment was ultimately withdrawn at the request of Ranking Member Peterson (D-MN) for further review and possible modification.  We hope to resolve this important issue regarding access to land for new farmers as the bill heads to the floor.

Both the Senate and House bills included amendments offered by Sen. Cochran (R-MS) and Rep. Fudge (D-OH) that would establish a socially disadvantaged farmer and rancher policy center.  Unfortunately, an amendment offered by Rep. Lujan Grisham (D-NM) to restore funding for training and outreach for minority, tribal, and veteran farmers was ultimately withdrawn during House markup, an issue we hope is resolved positively on the floor.

What’s next?  After the committee processes, the Farm Bill drafts each go to their respective houses.  This week the Senate will be debating the Senate Ag Committee’s draft, and we will keep you up to date as it proceeds.
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