The Senate’s version of the 2012 farm bill is expected to be on that chamber’s floor for multiple weeks, with much of that time consumed by debate and voting on perhaps dozens of amendments.
Unlike the House of Representatives, bills are considered in the Senate under an open process, meaning any Senator can propose virtually any amendment. Of course, there are procedural ways to block and delay amendments or prevent certain types of amendments, though it’s not yet clear if these maneuvers will be employed by the farm bill's floor managers.
A full list of amendments filed for the bill should be available late this week, with consideration of them beginning next week.
Here’s a preview of some known or likely amendments affecting farm program provisions of the draft bill. Note that NAWG will communicate further with state associations and other stakeholders about these and other amendments when further information becomes available.
Filed amendment: Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) has filed an amendment to tie conservation compliance requirements to crop insurance coverage.
NAWG opposes any such amendment because conservation compliance is already tied to Title I programs, which encompasses the vast majority of program crop acreage.
Crop insurance is the centerpiece of the U.S. farm safety net, and tying conservation compliance to crop insurance would lower participation even as the crop insurance program becomes a larger and larger portion of the farm safety net.
The crop insurance program also relies on a broad-base of participation to be effective at transferring risk across a very diverse agriculture industry.
Also, crop insurance is coverage farmers purchase from private companies, not the government, though the insurance premium is partially subsidized by the government.
Filed amendment: Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) have filed an amendment to put a $750,000 adjusted gross income (AGI) limit on those participating in crop insurance, with a 15 percentage point reduction on subsidies.
NAWG strongly opposes any AGI cap on crop insurance. If adopted, this amendment would limit participation in crop insurance and distort the risk profile of those who do participate. This change could also reduce the ability of producers to secure financing.
Driving farmers out of the crop insurance program will reduce the overall safety net for U.S. farm production and could impair the ability of the program to function efficiently and effectively, leading to calls from farmers for supplemental disaster assistance in times of acute crisis.
Expected amendment: to establish a crop insurance premium subsidy cap.
NAWG opposes limiting the subsidy on crop insurance contracts to $40,000 or some other arbitrary number. A study by Kansas State University ag economist Art Barnaby showed that a Kansas farm as small as 1,354 owned and cash rented acres would have hit this subsidy limit in 2011.
In times of high prices — and high premiums — farmers would hit the limit with even fewer acres. It is likely many wheat farmers would hit a $40,000 limit regularly, disincentivizing participation in crop insurance, which is the core of the safety net underlying a stable food and feed supply.
Expected amendment: to limit Title I program participation to those with adjusted gross incomes (AGIs) of $250,000 or less.
NAWG adamantly opposes any further reduction to the AGI limit for farm program participation. The version of the farm bill passed by the Senate Agriculture Committee already dramatically decreased the AGI limit for farm program participation, to $500,000. AGI limits do not take into consideration the widely varying incomes farms experience from year to year.