The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee will delve into what is expected to be the most challenging section of the farm bill reauthorization process next week at a hearing examining farm safety net programs.
The Wednesday hearing will be the fourth in a series started last month to examine the 2008 farm bill, which must be reauthorized or extended before it expires on Sept. 30.
The Committee has previously met to examine rural development and conservation programs.
This Wednesday, the Committee met to review nutrition programs and efforts to promote and create new markets for locally-grown foods. Witnesses at the hearing included Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, a farmer, a food bank executive and the head of local sourcing for Walmart Stores in addition to representatives of local food sources and markets.
Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said local purchasing can be a boon for regional and state governments, noting that if each Michigan family spent $10 on local food, $40 million would go to local jobs. Stabenow also said projects like farmers markets and food hubs help support young and beginning farmers.
Committee Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) cautioned that locally-grown and purchased food isn’t inherently “better, safer or more ‘environmentally sustainable’” than other food, saying, “sometimes purchasing a tomato grown in southeast Kansas at a local farmers market on a hot summer day makes the most sense and sometimes purchasing a tomato grown in Florida at the local grocery store during the cold winter months makes the most sense.”
He also urged oversight of the SNAP program, previously known as food stamps, which accounts for upwards of $70 billion in annual federal spending, including perhaps as much as $3.4 billion in improper spending.
On the other side of Capitol Hill, the House Agriculture Committee met Wednesday to adopt a budget views and estimates letter to be sent to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
The letter outlined what the Committee views as appropriate budget levels for the FY2013 cycle, as well as Members’ commentary about the budget challenges facing the nation and agricultural policies.
The letter noted that the Committee’s “main focus” will be reauthorization of the 2008 farm bill. It repeatedly referenced the bicameral agricultural proposal to last fall’s failed super committee, which offered cuts of $23 billion from the agriculture baseline though mandatory programs would only suffer an estimated $15 billion reduction under sequestration.
At the meeting this week, House Ag Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) noted that the super committee’s failure means ag leaders are “starting again at square one,” though with lessons learned, while Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) reiterated that the Agriculture Committees were the only panels to actually offer a reduction proposal.
In his comments, Lucas also emphasized consensus around the importance of crop insurance to the farm safety net and the need to streamline conservation programs to make them more efficient and easy-to-use.
The House Ag Committee is set to begin a series of farm bill field hearings.
For more details on that, visit the Hearings section at http://agriculture.house.gov/.
The full House budget letter is at http://agriculture.house.gov/pdf/letters/2013BudgetViewsEstimatesLetter.pdf.
More on this week’s Senate Ag hearing and a planned webcast of next week’s hearing are available online at http://ag.senate.gov.