House and Senate efforts to conference a new, five-year farm bill are certainly a step in the right direction, but continued pressure from farmers and ranchers and the groups representing their interests will be necessary to keep momentum going.
According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, both the Senate and House bills provide "adequate food and farm safety nets" for consumers and farmers, said AFBF President Bob Stallman in an Oct. 15 letter to conferees.
Stallman said in his comments that the two overarching goals of the farm bill conference are ensuring that permanent law is not repealed and a complete, unified bill continues.
"For some time, the threat of reinstatement of the long-outdated policies of the 1938 and 1949 acts has served as strong motivation for Congress to enact new farm bills," Stallman said, arguing that repealing those acts and making the 2013 farm bill commodity title permanent law could make it harder to generate political pressure for adjusting commodity safety nets as the conditions in production agriculture change.
If the farm bill expires after five years, Stallman said, other important farm and rural programs covered in different titles are at risk of not being reauthorized.
"Over the last two years, leadership of both Ag Committees have demonstrated their ability to forge bipartisan compromise to achieve a new five-year farm bill that meets farmers' and ranchers' needs while also contributing significant savings to reduce our federal deficit," Stallman said. "We only see these savings if Congress gets the bill done," he added.
Stallman also signaled support for the nutrition title in the farm bill, adding that if such provisions are not included, the House and Senate will be hard-pressed to reach an agreement on a final version of the farm bill that will be approved by President Obama.
Negotiations on the nutrition issue are expected to be contentious, as the House has proposed a $40 billion cut to food stamps while the Senate is pushing just a $4 billion cut.
The group, however, made no mention of last week's decision to drop its support of a conservation compliance measure that would be tied to crop insurance in the 2013 farm bill, a decision House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., applauded.
The tie has been previously viewed as a hurdle to bill negotiations in the House, as some say it could limit participation in federal crop insurance programs and lead to reliance on ad-hoc disaster legislation.
"A grower must purchase a crop insurance policy and must suffer a verifiable loss," Lucas explained in a statement regarding the AFBF decision. "Sometimes this means a grower must suffer a 50% loss before collecting a payment. Tying conservation compliance to crop insurance would create another layer of bureaucratic, red tape potentially endangering a farmer's livelihood."
Stallman's letter urging action on the farm bill comes just as House leadership appointed conferees to resolve differences between the House and Senate bills. A timeline for the conference, however, has not been released.