Brancel: Senate will be in driver'sseat if Farm Bill passes this year
If there is to be a Farm Bill this year, it will be driven by action in the U.S. Senate.
That's what Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Ben Brancel heard from members of Congress on a recent trip to the nation's capital.
He was in Washington with other members of NASDA, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, an organization that brings together state ag secretaries and commissioners.
During a reception at the Capitol the state ag leaders mingled with senators and members of the House.
Sen. Mike Johanns, (R-NB) who was U.S. Agriculture Secretary during the creation of the 2008 Farm Bill, indicated that this year's farm policy will be hammered out in the Senate.
Brancel said the reason is that the people engaged in the House Agriculture debate are "so diverse that there is little chance of finding common ground."
Others have told Wisconsin State Farmer that procedural rules in the House will mean that any Farm Bill's progress could be crippled by amendments on the floor during House debate.
Brancel said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) told the NASDA group that the Senate could have a markup (rough draft) of the Farm Bill by May.
It will be somewhat different from the Farm Bill that was hashed out last year during the deliberations of the Super Committee, Brancel was told.
Though the lawmakers were optimistic about getting a draft Farm Bill done by May, they were less optimistic about getting it passed on the floor, Brancel told members of the state ag board during their meeting last week.
One thing appears certain in the upcoming Farm Bill though - every member across the board told the NASDA members that direct payments "are a thing of the past," Brancel said.
Focus on risk management for crops
"Most of the focus will be on risk management for crops - a position that's supported by many commodity groups, like cotton and corn," Brancel said.
The dairy program in the Farm Bill is still up in the air, but will probably be written along the lines of the Dairy Security Act of last year, introduced by Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN.)
Conservation programs will have less money but programs will likely have more flexibility, he said.
In a written position paper, members of NASDA said they want to see a new Farm Bill that maintains a robust and flexible Specialty Crop Brock Grants program, which provides important financial resources to the specialty crop industry - which is different in each state.
That program provides $55 million each year that allows state Departments of Agriculture to address the needs of their diverse specialty crop stakeholders in a relevant manner, members said.
Brancel said the state ag leaders also want to see the new Farm Bill fully fund the programs that address invasive species. The 2008 Farm Bill created programs to combat the growing threat of invasive species that pose a risk to agricultural producers nationwide.
The group called for retaining and fully funding the invasive species titles of the Farm Bill and also providing additional tools for invasive species issues through the Forest Service and other agencies of the federal government.
Members of NASDA also called on the Farm Bill to invest in locally driven conservation programs that are flexible and efficient and also asked lawmakers to support the Market Access program and others that help with trade development.
A modest investment in these programs to develop foreign markets for agricultural products has a big economic impact on U.S. farm cash receipts, the organization said in its statement.
Between 2002 and 2009 these programs increased the average annual level of U.S. farm cash receipts by $4.4 billion and net cash farm income by $1.5 billion according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The state ag leaders also reminded lawmakers that state departments of agriculture have been called on increasingly to deliver important federal programs at the local level, which makes sense, they said, since they are positioned to quickly and efficiently respond to complex problems.
They asked that adequate funding be allocated so that states could continue these important tasks.