Following the failure of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to develop a proposal into which the 2012 Farm Bill could have been included, Washington policy analysts say the crafting of national farm policy will be a more-open process, with programs facing additional scrutiny.
"What is going to happen now is the process will slow down a little bit and it will become a little bit more transparent for everybody who is interested," said Mark Maslyn, American Farm Bureau Federation public policy executive director. "We'll have more time to do the things that normally occur in a farm bill, whether they be hearings or analysis for different proposals."
Asked to achieve $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction during the next 10 years, the "super committee" members failed to reach an agreement by the Nov. 23 deadline set by Congress. As a result, the Office of Management and Budget will likely announce early next year that farm programs will be subject to "sequestration," or across-the-board cuts.
The chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate agriculture committees—who helped identify $23 billion in cuts to farm programs for the super committee—indicated that work on the new farm bill will now return to their respective committees for further discussion, under a more deliberative process than was possible under the time constraints imposed on the Joint Committee.
Following the super committee's failure to reach an agreement, Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, stated, "We will continue the process of reauthorizing the farm bill in the coming months, and will do so with the same bipartisan spirit that has historically defined the work of our committees."
Whether lawmakers intend to use the super committee proposal as a guide for writing the next farm bill, Maslyn said, remains unclear.
"Time was the biggest constraint to getting something we could support. What you would normally do in a 12-month period, the super committee caused to happen in about six to eight weeks, which doesn't allow for the full vetting, involvement and inclusion that normally occurs in the farm bill debate," Maslyn said. "Now that it is under 'regular order,' it is an open question as to whether they will go back to where they left off."
The rush to pass a new farm bill to meet the super committee's schedule, Maslyn said, was a significant departure from the way farm bills have been traditionally negotiated, with lengthy hearings and input from affected groups.
"Now back under regular order, the down side is when you go to the floor it will likely be an open rule and is not afforded the parliamentary protections that it would have had if it were in the debt committee report," Maslyn said. "That means members of Congress who either don't understand farm programs, or think that the money ought to be spent somewhere else, or think that the money ought not to be spent at all, are free to go to the floor and offer up amendments to strike or delete funding. Regardless, we are pretty sure we're going to be writing a farm bill with a lot less money."
Whether discussions on farm programs return to current law as the starting point or begin from the "fast track" version, AFBF said it will conduct expanded analysis on its proposal to establish a Systemic Risk Reduction Program, which it describes as a safety net to help farmers deal with "large systemic risk issues" rather than smaller fluctuations in income that can result from average weather and market events.
Rayne Pegg, California Farm Bureau Federation National Affairs and Research Division assistant manager, said CFBF will continue to place emphasis on issues specific to California agriculture, such as specialty crop programs, conservation programs, research, pest exclusion, market development and maintaining the integrity of the national organic standard, while consulting with other groups in the state on farm-program commodities, including dairy.
"The bipartisan agriculture committee proposal was good for specialty crops, then 72 hours later things fell apart. This now leads back to future farm bill discussions, where we will be seeking that the progress that was made, be maintained," Pegg said.
A number of recommendations provided by the House and Senate agriculture committees to the super committee would be beneficial for California farmers and ranchers, Pegg said. For example:
- Under specialty crop programs, the following fared well: block grants; plant, pest and disease protections; the Specialty Crop Research Initiative; and market development programs.
- Related to conservation, a consolidated easement program featured easements to keep land in agricultural production and protect it from development, and wetlands easements to restore, protect, or enhance wetlands on private property. The Conservation Reserve Program acreage cap was phased down to 25 million acres (from the current 32 million), as 10 million acres expire in the next two years. A Regional Conservation Partnership Program was introduced for projects that improve soil quality, water quality or wildlife habitat in a specific area.
- For nutrition, a newly created Hunger Free Communities Incentives Grant program offered $100 million for incentives to purchase fruits and vegetables by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants.
- The proposal authorized $15 million in annual funding for the National Organic Program, and funding to create a database to track certified operations, certifiers and compliance in the program.
"Everything that was proposed by the House and Senate agriculture committees is now up for redrafting and debate," Pegg said. "CFBF will be advocating that the programs important to California farmers be included in the farm bill."
Source: California Farm Bureau Federation