On Thursday afternoon, the Senate Agriculture Committee completed its markup and passed the 2012 farm bill. It now heads to the full Senate.

According to a committee statement, the bill — which ends direct payments to farmers — will cut agriculture spending some $25 billion by “eliminating unnecessary subsidies, consolidating programs to end duplication, and cracking down on food assistance abuse. These reforms allow for the strengthening of key initiatives that help farmers and small businesses reach new markets and create American jobs.”

To read the bill, see here.

Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, committee chairwoman, said she was proud of the bipartisan approach to the legislation. “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.”

While the committee’s vote was indeed bipartisan none of the three members from the South — Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss and Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran — voted for the bill. During deliberations all expressed reservations about the ability of the legislation to adequately protect some sectors of southern agriculture. Among their worries: irrigated acreage, peanuts, rice and cotton.   

In a joint statement following the bill’s passage, USA Rice Federation, US Rice Producers Association, Southern Peanut Farmers Federation, and Western Peanut Growers said, “While we are disappointed in the Senate package due to its lack of equitable treatment of many of the producers we represent, we appreciate the efforts of these senators in so faithfully giving voice to so many farmers locked out of an effective safety net under the bill. … We remain hopeful that, as the process moves forward, rice and peanut farmers in all growing regions might be allowed to participate as equals alongside other commodities in having access to risk management tools provided by the farm bill."

Cotton Council position

National Cotton Council Chairman Chuck Coley was pleased with the bill’s risk management tools “that can provide support when conditions occur that are beyond the growers’ control.”

Coley also was happy that the bill includes the NCC’s “Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX) and modified marketing assistance loan program, both designed to meet budget challenges and the resolving of the Brazil WTO case.”

Even so the Council expressed deep concern that the legislation does address needs of rice and peanut growers. Other areas of worry: provisions regarding new lower payment limits, a significantly lower Adjusted Gross Income eligibility test, and changes to the actively engaged in farming provisions used to determine eligibility for revenue and loan programs.

The NCC “is committed to continue to work with those growers and their organizations to successfully modify the legislation before it reaches the Senate floor vote to ensure that Sunbelt farmers get the much-needed economic benefit of an adequate safety net,” said Coley. “While it is important for cotton to have a workable program, many of our growers also rely on peanuts, rice and other crops for their livelihood and need viable cropping options.”

Other commodity organizations had fewer hesitations about the bill.

The legislation “not only provides important risk management tools and funding for export promotion, energy, biobased products and research, but also helps agriculture do its part to address the nation’s budget deficits,” said American Soybean Association President Steve Wellman.

“ASA is encouraged that the bill includes a revenue-based risk management program that is equitable between crops, and will partially offset losses incurred at either the farm level or the county level,” continued Wellman. “Other key features of the bill include its consolidation of multiple conservation programs, targeting of conservation funding toward conservation measures on working lands versus land retirement, authorization and funding for the new Foundation for Food and Agriculture, full funding of the Foreign Market Development Program (Cooperator) and Market Access Program (MAP), and mandatory funding for ASA’s two Energy Title priorities, the Biobased Market Program and the Biodiesel Education Program.”