May 24, 2013

Senate and House Agriculture Committees advance Farm Bill

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By Lowell Randal and Walt Smith / FASS Washington Representatives

On Tuesday, May 14, the Senate Agriculture Committee met to consider its version of the Farm Bill, S. 954, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013. The Senate Farm Bill is very similar to the package that was passed by the Senate in 2012. The text of the bill, along with a summary can be found on the Senate Agriculture Committee website.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Senate bill would save over $23 billion. Much of the savings comes from revisions to commodity programs, consolidating programs and addressing fraud in nutrition programs. The committee approved the bill by a margin of 15-5. Republicans opposing the bill were mainly from the Midwest and expressed concerns about the direction of the commodity title. The lone Democrat voting against the bill was Senator Gillibrand (D-NY), who is opposed to the $4 billion in savings achieved by the changes to nutrition programs.

The Research Title of the Senate Farm Bill reauthorizes USDA’s major research, extension and education programs including the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). As passed last year, the Senate bill also includes authorization for a new Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, which would create a non-governmental foundation as a new mechanism to support agriculture research. The bill provides $100 million in mandatory funding to seed the foundation. The Senate bill also includes budget submission language that would require USDA to provide details of competitive grant program priorities and requests for proposals each year.

Specific to animal science, the Senate bill includes authority for a new Farm Animal Agriculture Integrated Research Initiative. This new initiative, developed and promoted by the National Association for the Advancement of Animal Science, would establish a competitive grants program to address the three priority focal areas identified by the FAIR 2012 priority setting process. Emphasis would be placed on food security, one health and stewardship. The bill includes an authorization of $50 million per year that would be subject to funding through the annual appropriations process. Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) both filed an amendment to include the initiative in the Senate Farm Bill. The amendment was included in the manager’s package of en bloc amendments and approved by voice vote.

Floor consideration of the Farm Bill in the Senate began the week of May 20 and is scheduled to resume June 3 after the Memorial Day recess. Almost 200 amendments have been filed, with the most hotly debated amendments thus far dealing with nutrition programs and crop insurance.

The House Agriculture Committee followed suit by considering its version of the Farm Bill, H.R. 1947, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 on Wednesday, May 15. CBO estimates that the House bill would save nearly $40 billion, with savings coming from revisions to nutrition and commodity programs as well as consolidation of some conservation programs. The committee approved the bill by a margin of 36 – 10. The biggest controversies surround changes to nutrition programs, which would save over $20 billion. The text of the bill and summaries can be found on the House Agriculture Committee website.

The Research Title of the House bill includes many of the same reauthorizations of core USDA programs, along with budget submission requirements. The House bill does not include authorization for the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research or the new animal science initiative. The House is expected to conduct floor consideration of the Farm Bill in June.