The 2013 Farm Bill is Off to the Floor Debates!

Farm from

Last week, drafts of the nearly $955 billion 2013 Farm Bill legislation were passed through both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees. Here’s where the drafts stand after their markups.

The House bill proposes $40 billion in overall cuts, including some $20.5 billion in cuts to SNAP (food stamps), which means 2 million fewer people would receive the benefit. The proposed bill would reinvest cuts made to direct payment programs into crop insurance and commodity subsidies. (So this isn’t a reform-minded bill on the ag front.) While it does include modest projects to help new farmers and promote local, sustainable food, it does not help land conservation programs altogether. What’s the good news here, if any? For those SNAP recipients whose benefits survive the cut, the bill includes more incentives for their use at farmers’ markets.

On the Senate side, $24.4 billion in overall cuts includes $4 billion in proposed SNAP cuts. Add those to reforms to commodity subsidies (which were also included in last year’s bill) which passed to the tune of $16 billion. Altogether, crop insurance programs would be increased by $5 billion, quite the boon for Big Ag since there would be no exceptions for the largest farm operations, who will receive the same subsidies as smaller farms. On the "good news" side, funding for organic programs which had been cut due to sequestration would be restored. Also during the markup, an amendment was successfully added to support bees in light of colony collapse disorder, which would encourage planting of alfalfa to help pollinators out.

Where do we go from here? In the Senate, a floor debate kicked off yesterday; after a Memorial Day recess, a June vote is expected. Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) and colleagues are expected to express strong opposition to the SNAP cuts, which overall remain an impossible chasm to leap; any compromise between $20 billion and $4 billion is seen as just too big for the program’s supporters (and detractors). On the House side alone, Ag Committee debate turned tense, lengthy and philosophical; at one point, members debated by citing Bible verses.

Dairy may also provoke intense floor debate and discussion in the House, courtesy of a proposed payment program for dairy farmers to close the gap between the price at which they can sell their milk and the cost of feed for the animals. As Patty Lovera of Food & Water Watch puts it, "Dairy processing companies that love buying cheap milk from farmers hate this program and fought hard to get it out." That said, the proposed program wouldn’t necessarily stabilize matters in favor of family dairy farmers.

And so the wild, wacky odyssey towards a new five-year farm bill continues – to what end is still unclear. Marion Nestle includes a good roundup of takes on the matter, noting that "Eternal optimist that I am, even I am having trouble with this one."