Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Farm Bill Exposes Industry's Connection to Congress

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: I don’t think the farm bill debate could be any more mysterious. Seems like somebody doesn’t want us to know what’s going on. Here’s what I understand so far: Senate version, S. 954, doesn’t contain amendments to help food stamp users (now called Snap) or family farmers. There were more than 200 amendments pending, and a filibuster threatened, so they moved to limit debate to 30 hours. The good amendments, posted on the National Family Farm Coalition website, included “Udall's amendment on Section 2501 (#1055), Tester's amendment on Seeds and Breeds (#972), and the competition amendments: Rockefeller's amendment #993) to limit retaliation for growers speaking out; the Grassley (#969), Tester (#971), and Enzi (#982) amendments on other key components of livestock competition issues; and the Brown (#1088) amendment to encourage food and agriculture market development, entrepreneurship and education.” With these amendments rejected, there are no protections for family farmers and the corporations have free rein as far as narrowing the seed and livestock businesses and stopping young farmers from getting education and starting their own businesses. On the House side, debate is supposed to begin next Monday. They haven’t decided whether to accept amendments or not. Looks like they want to cut funds to GIPSA, the organization supposed to guarantee fairness in pricing, and SNAP. NFFC says, “The bill reported from the House Agriculture Committee guts GIPSA, cuts SNAP by more than $20 billion, and retains the Dairy Security Act (which we oppose) as well as other provisions that roll back current policy. During the House Agriculture Committee markup there were several amendments discussed but not voted on including Lujan-Grisham (D-NM) amendments to restore Section 2501 Minority Outreach and Education funds, and Fudge (D-OH) amendment on receipt for service that may become part of a floor amendment.” Here’s what NFFC says about the Senate Passage of the Farm Bill: S. 954: Washington, DC – Since early 2012, the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) has urged passage of a farm bill to extend important programs whose existence depends on a new farm bill. On October 1, 2012, more than 37 programs were stranded in the budget, farm bill, and appropriations processes; several were extended in the fiscal cliff deal but most received no funding. The floor debate on this farm bill exposed major flaws in our democratic process. Despite Senator Stabenow's (D-MI) claims to having taken up many amendments the past two years, some that were critical to family farmers and rural communities were introduced, co-sponsored, and supported widely but never heard or debated. These amendments would have protected growers speaking up about unfair contracts from retaliation; prioritized funding for traditional (non-biotech) crop research; and restored the 40 percent in cuts for critical minority outreach and education programs. S. 954 lowered these funds from $17 million to $10 million per year. The greatest concern around S. 954 is that it privatizes the supposed safety net by shifting direct payments to grain and dairy farmers to a corporate-controlled crop insurance payment program. There is no pricing system based on farmers’ cost of production or any sort of reserve policy at the farm, national, or global level. Without these mechanisms to stabilize prices and to help farmers, fishermen, and rural communities face disastrous weather and economic conditions, this bill promotes farmer uncertainty while global insurance companies reap unchecked profits. S. 954 makes a few small yet significant steps. It links conservation compliance to farmers holding crop insurance and allows organic farmers to be covered under crop insurance at their retail, not wholesale, prices. It expands support for farmers markets and EBT access to SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) benefits and establishes the Healthy Farm Financing Initiative and some beginning farmer initiatives, including outreach to Veteran farmers. It also calls for an official hearing process with broad participation to consider changes to the flawed current and proposed dairy programs.

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