Farm Bill Breakthrough in Washington

Mark Keating's picture

Despite the ongoing budget stalemate, Congress took a huge step towards renewing the Farm Bill over the weekend when the House of Representatives agreed to negotiations with the Senate on a  compromise five year package.  Specifically, the House and Senate appointed their respective members to a Conference Committee which will seek to iron out the differences between the Farm Bills each side has already approved.

There is no minimizing the differences between the House and Senate proposals, especially with regard to funding levels and policy provisions for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  The good news is that, if the SNAP issues can be resolved, there is a viable pathway to agreement on a comprehensive package including desperately needed support for organic, sustainable, local and beginning farmers.  There are clear signs that a majority in both the House and Senate are prepared for significant reforms to the crop insurance and commodity programs at the same time that support for cost-effective organic and alternative initiatives is growing.

Specific to organic agriculture, the House and Senate proposals are a mixed bag.  The House would increase appropriations for the critical Organic Research and Extension Initiative to $20 million annually while the Senate would retain the current level of $16 million.  However, the Senate would significantly expand funding for the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program which the House would eliminate entirely.  Similarly, the House proposal eliminates funding for the Organic Data Initiative which provides valuable market research on organic commerce.  With consumer demand for organic agriculture continuing to soar, it would be unacceptable for Congress to pull the plug on these two highly cost-effective programs.

The Farm Bill Conference Committee could have its first meeting as soon as this week and OFRF will keep you informed of breaking developments.  For now, check to see if you have a Representative or Senator serving on the Conference Committee – this can give you extra leverage when it’s time to make your voice heard.  We know how badly jammed up the process in Washington has become, but don’t be surprised if events move quickly when the jam breaks up.

House of Representatives Conference Committee appointees:

Democrats – Collin Peterson (MN), Mike McIntyre (NC), Jim Costa (CA), Tim Walz (MN), Kurt Schrader (OR), Jim McGovern (MA), Suzan DelBene (WA), Gloria Negrete McLeod (CA), Filemon Vela (TX), plus, representing the leadership but nonetheless also a member of the Committee, Marcia Fudge (D-OH).

Republicans – Frank Lucas (OK), Mike Rogers (AL), Randy Neugebauer (TX), Michael Conaway (TX), Rick Crawford (AR), Steve King (IA), Austin Scott (GA), Glenn Thompson (PA), Martha Roby (AL), Kristi Noem (SD), Rodney Davis (IL), Jeff Denham (CA), plus, representing the House leadership, Steve Southerland (FL).

Senate Conference Committee appointees:

Democrats – Debbie Stabenow (MI), Patrick Leahy (VT), Tom Harkin (IA), Sherrod Brown (OH), Amy Klobuchar (MN), and Michael Bennet (CO)

Republicans – Thad Cochran (MS), Pat Roberts (KS), Saxby Chambliss (GA), John Boozman (AR), and John Hoeven (ND).

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