An amendment that would have eliminated direct payments and the non-recourse loan and replaced them with an expanded crop insurance program became the first to go down in defeat as the Senate began debating on and voting on changes to the 2007 farm bill.
The Senate refused to agree to the amendment proposed by Sens. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., by a vote of 37-58 Tuesday (Dec. 11). The amendment was the first of 40 — 20 on each side — that could be offered for the 2007 farm bill under an agreement reached by Senate leaders.
Both Lugar and Lautenberg tried to cast the amendment, also known as the Farm Ranch Equity Stewardship and Health (FRESH) Act of 2007, as a reform measure that would save taxpayers roughly $4 billion and enable more beginning farmers to get into the business.
“The farm bill we have before us does not provide meaningful reform,” said Lugar, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee when Freedom to Farm was enacted. “Our current farm policies, sold to the American public as a safety-net, actually hurt the family farmer.”
But Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., the senior Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, said the FRESH amendment would tend to concentrate payments among older farmers to a greater extent than the current law.
Despite media reports claiming a small percentage receive the lion’s share of farm payments, Conrad said the reverse was true — that smaller farmers receive a bigger share of payments than growers who produce most of the country’s food and fibers.
Environmental groups that had thrown their support behind the FRESH amendment expressed disappointment at the vote. Among those were Environmental Defense, which had participated in several media events promoting passage of the legislation.
“We applaud Senators Lugar and Lautenberg for their leadership in highlighting the failures of our current farm policies and proposing a more efficient and effective safety net for producers,” said Sara Hopper, farm bill attorney for Environmental Defense.
“Thirty-seven senators stood up to intense special interest pressure from one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington today in voting for the FRESH amendment. We are pleased with the actions of this bipartisan group of lawmakers, but we are deeply disappointed that more senators did not join them.”
She said senators would have other opportunities to vote for farm policy reforms that increase funding for conservation, nutrition, and other national priorities, and “we hope they’ll do so.”