Senate Ag Committee approves Farm Bill

By Erin Voegele | May 14, 2013

The U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry has voted to approve a bipartisan Farm Bill authored by Committee Chairwoman Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Ranking Member Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. The bill, titled the Agriculture Reform Food and Jobs Act of 2012, will now move to the Senate for consideration.

Congress passes a Farm Bill approximately every five years. The last version of the bill passed in 2008 and expired last year. A partial extension was passed in January to extend some Farm Bill programs. That extension will expire later this year.  

“The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 will save taxpayers billions of dollars while promising a safe and healthy national food supply. By eliminating duplication, and streamlining and consolidating programs, we were able to continue investing in initiatives that help farmers and small businesses create jobs. This bill proves that by working across party lines, we can save taxpayer money and create smart, cost-effective policies that lay the foundation for a stronger, more prosperous economy.  I am proud that once again the Agriculture Committee was able to work together in a bipartisan way to complete major reforms that save money and grow our economy,” Stabenow said. “We now look forward to continuing to work with our colleagues in a bipartisan way to ensure we enact a Farm Bill this year before the current one expires.  Agriculture supports 16 million jobs in our country, and it is absolutely critical to provide farmers the certainty they need to plan and grow by passing a Farm Bill this year.”

The bill includes a total of $23 billion in cuts to agricultural programs. In his opening statement during the May 14 committee markup session for the legislation, Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., noted that the bill contains significantly less mandatory funding authorized for energy programs when compared to the 2008 Farm Bill. Cuts were made in many other areas as well. In addition, several programs have been streamlined and consolidated.

“I think it is important that we move the bill through the Congress and to the President for his signature.  Farmers and ranchers need the certainty that comes from a five-year Farm Bill.  We have tried to be fair to those affected by this bill, as well as to those who pay the bill,” Cochran said. “We hope this is a workable bill that encourages conservation of land and water resources at the same time it rewards production of reasonably-priced commodities. We need to move the process forward, get to the Senate floor and negotiate ultimately with the House of Representatives in conference and resolve our differences.  We hope the President will sign our bill.  I think it deserves his support.”

A bill summary published by the committee provides an overview of programs included under the Farm Bill’s Energy Title. According to the summary, the legislation authorizes $241 million in mandatory funding to the Rural Energy for America Program, which helps farmers, ranchers and rural business owners lower their energy bills by installing renewable and energy efficient systems. The bill also provides for a streamlined application process for small- and medium-sized projects.

The legislation provides $193 million in mandatory funding for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, which provides support for farmers and ranchers to cultivate biomass energy crops for conversion into biofuels or bioenergy.

In addition, the legislation reauthorizes and modifies the USDA’s BioPreferred Program and the Federal Government Procurement Preference Program. According to the bill summary, many of the modifications are adopted from the “Make it Here, Grow it Here” initiative. A total of $15 million in mandatory funding is allocated to the program.

The Biorefinery Assistance Program is assigned $216 million in mandatory funding. The program provides loan guarantees for renewable energy projects. The program is also expanded to include biobased manufacturing and biochemcials.

Also included under the Energy Title is the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels, which provides production payments for advanced bioenergy sources, such as biogas, advanced biofuels and biopower. In addition, the Biomass Research and Development Initiative, which funds biomass feedstock development, is allocated $130 million in mandatory funding. Finally, the Community Wood Program is included in the bill. It provides cost-share grants for communities to supply public buildings with energy from locally sourced, sustainable wood.

The American Coalition for Ethanol has spoken out to thank Stabenow and members of the Senate Agriculture Committee for adopting a Farm Bill that provides $800 million in Mandatory funding for Energy Title programs, including the $241 allocated to REAP. “REAP provides vital cost-share assistance to help petroleum marketers make upgrades or install new equipment at retail stations, ensuring consumers have access to renewable and affordable fuels such as ethanol,” said Brian Jennings, executive vice president of ACE. “Today’s action highlights strong bipartisan support for market access to E15 and midlevel blends, such as E30 or E85.  We encourage the U.S. Senate to take action soon to enact the Farm Bill.”

The National Corn Growers Association has also applauded the bill’s passage out of committee. “The National Corn Growers Association is pleased to see the committee listened to the concerns of our nation’s corn farmers and have done a great job keeping our priorities, especially the importance of crop insurance and risk management, under consideration while drafting the legislation,” said Pam Johnson, president of the NCGA. “While we understand this is the first step in a very long process, we applaud the Senate Ag Committee for completing their bill and are encouraged that the House Agriculture Committee will swiftly follow suit. We look forward to continued work with members and staff on this important piece of legislation and urge Congress to pass a farm bill as soon as possible this year.”

The Agriculture Energy Coalition noted that the Farm Bill provides economic and environmental benefits to the U.S. “We thank the members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, especially Senator Amy Klobuchar for increasing the funding for the Renewable Energy for America Program, and Senators Joe Donnelly and Pat Roberts for a bipartisan proposal to improve risk management options for biomass crops. We look forward to working with them to ensure the continued success of Farm Bill energy programs,” said Lloyd Ritter, co-director of the coalition.

Growth Energy has also weighed in on the legislation, applauding the bill’s crop insurance provisions. “The inclusion of Senator Donnelly’s and Senator Robert’s amendment to provide federal crop insurance for biomass and dedicated energy crops will improve risk management, establishing the safety net necessary for farmers to further invest in a diversified mix of energy crops,” said Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization has issued a statement in support of the legislation, specifically mentioning the provision to make renewable chemicals eligible for Energy Title programs. “Reauthorization of Farm Bill energy programs with robust mandatory funding will help innovative U.S. companies continue to commercialize advanced biotech processes,” said Jim Greenwood, BIO president and CEO. “Putting homegrown technologies to work converting domestic crops and residues to value added products can create high-quality rural jobs, spur economic growth, and improve environmental health.  Granting long-overdue eligibility for renewable chemical projects will revive America’s manufacturing sector and improve U.S. economic competitiveness. We thank the members of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, particularly Senators Stabenow and Cochran, for their forward-looking action and will work with them to achieve final passage of this important legislation.”

Additional information on the bill can be found on the committee’s Farm Bill webpage.