Update on the Farm Bill

Defeat in the House

The Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act (HR 1947/HRpt 113-92) was defeated by a vote of 234 to 195 in the House of Representatives on Thursday (June 20th) underscoring the ideological differences between the more fiscally conservative Republican lawmakers and their leadership.

Overall, the bill was designed to provide $939 billion in programmatic funding through FY 18. Title VI covered the Rural Development and Rural Utilities Service programs and included an authorization for $20 million for rural water and wastewater circuit rider programs beginning in FY 14; $27 million for FYs 2014-18 to support emergency and imminent community water assistance grants; and $5 million for FYs 2014-18 for household water well system grants. Separately, the bill’s Conservation title proposed consolidating 23 conservation programs into 13.

Yesterday’s vote comes a year after House leaders pulled the measure off the calendar because conservative lawmakers asked for deeper cuts in the food stamp program and Democrats objected. This year’s measure called for more significant cuts than the Senate bill, but it still did not go far enough to get a majority in the House to support an overhaul of the nation’s food and farm programs. 62 Republicans voted with House Democrats to defeat the bill.

Meanwhile, in the Senate…

The Senate overwhelmingly passed its version of the farm bill last week (June 13th), with about $2.4 billion a year in overall cuts and a $400 million annual decrease in food stamps — one-fifth of the House bill’s food stamp cuts. The White House was supportive of the Senate version but had issued a veto threat of the House bill.

The Senate bill, called the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 (S. 954), provides $955 billion over five years. Among the funding provisions are authorizations for water and wastewater grants ($60 million) and loans ($60 million) to alleviate health risks and an authorization for $25 million in grants for nonprofit organizations to provide technical assistance related to storage, treatment, purification or distribution of water; to prepare applications for financial assistance; and to improve a system’s operation and maintenance.
As part of the Conservation Title, the bill establishes the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), which incentivizes non-agricultural entities, such as municipalities, drinking water or wastewater utilities, or NGOs, to partner with local agricultural producers to implement conservation practices on their land using funds from: the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Agricultural Easement Program. The RCPP would ensure that nutrient management activities receive priority conservation funding and, importantly, allow farmers that are part of a partnership agreement to receive five-year contracts and special payments for nutrient management-related activities. The bill also contains new language that clarifies that municipal water and wastewater entities are eligible partners and specifically cites partnerships that execute innovative water quality improvement measures as eligible for conservation funding. The bill also ties crop insurance to basic conservation measures on highly erodible lands.

So, What’s Next?

If the two chambers cannot come together on a bill, farm-state lawmakers could push for an extension of the 2008 farm bill that expires in September or negotiate a new bill with the Senate and try again. Some conservatives have suggested separating the farm programs and the food stamps into separate bills. Farm-state lawmakers have for decades added food stamps to farm bills to garner urban votes for the rural bill. But that marriage has made passage harder this year.