by Marion Nestle
Jun 19 2012

Senators grapple with the farm bill this week

This is the week to pay close attention to what’s happening with the farm bill.  The senate has agreed to begin voting this afternoon on 73 amendments.*

As the Washington Post puts it, this week’s “vote-o-rama” might actually end up passing a five-year bill that would

cost $969 billion over the next decade and includes $23.6 billion in proposed cuts, making it a slimmed-down version of legislation that historically served as one of the main opportunities for members of Congress to deliver pork-barrel spending to their constituents.

Roll Call explains the politics behind the Senate’s plan.

Although final Senate approval is far from guaranteed, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced a 73-amendment agreement just before 8:30 p.m., hours after Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and ranking member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) could be seen and heard wrangling with rank-and-file Members in the chamber.

The farm bill is the perfect embodiment of stakeholder politics in action.  The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), which has been tracking farm bill events closely, says that

On Thursday, NSAC joined over 90 organizations in a letter supporting passage of the amendment to re-link soil and wetland conservation requirements to crop insurnace premium subsidies, the largest farm subsidy in the new farm bill. Earlier, at the beginning of the week, NSAC also joined over 500 organizations on a letter opposing any farm bill that increased the size of the cuts to farm conservation programs beyond the ten percent cut in the pending Senate bill. A sign-on letter in support of beginning, minority, and veteran farmer amendments will be delivered Monday.

The San Francisco Chronicle points out that California produce growers like the farm bill pretty much as it is.  In 2008, it provided them with some support.  They are opposed to caps on crop insurance subsidies favored by food movement advocates.

The article quotes Kari Hamerschlag, an analyst with the Environmental Working Group:

just 600 farmers in California, or 2 percent, receive 33 percent of the crop insurance subsidies going to the state, an average of $98,000 apiece. Capping the subsidies at $40,000 per farm would save $33 million in California alone…That would be enough…to provide the fresh fruit and vegetable snack program for poor children to 1,178 schools, or quadruple the money for local and regional food programs in the state, or increase a conservation incentive program by half.

As a nation we have to decide, is it more import to subsidize high profits for crop insurance companies, or healthy food for kids?

It looks like we will get the answer to this question from the Senate this week.  Stay tuned.

* Addition:  If you need a scorecard, I just got sent the farm bill primer listing the amendments.

Comments

  • Michael Bulger
  • June 19, 2012
  • 1:06 pm

EWG offered this report on the skewed nature of California’s federal subsidies. http://farm.ewg.org/pdf/california-farm.pdf

Long story short, rice and cotton get most of the money despite being a small portion of California ag. Specialty crop growers make up a much larger portion of California’s ag economy, but end up getting less funding directed their way.

  • Russ
  • June 19, 2012
  • 5:00 pm

As much as I hope that school kids get their fruits and vegetables, I have a feeling that large farmers are going to be getting their profits.

Folks following the farm bill in the Senate will likely find this to be a useful resource:
http://farmbillprimer.org/senate-farm-bill-amendments/

[...] but she has obviously been following this bill closely, especially for the past few days (see here, here, and [...]

[...] but she has obviously been following this bill closely, especially for the past few days (see here, here, and [...]

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