The Senate Agriculture Committee has approved a five-year, half-trillion-dollar plan to overhaul the nation’s food and farm policies.
The measure goes now to the full Senate. It ends the practice of paying farmers for crops they don’t grow. Instead, it shifts emphasis to crop insurance and a new federal risk management program. The current $284 billion 5-year law expires on Sept. 30.
The Senate bill would save $25 billion during the next decade by ending direct payments with savings invested in a new revenue insurance program. Conservation programs would be consolidated, saving $6.4 billion in spending, with about $4 billion cut from public nutrition programs by closing loopholes and boosting transparency.
The Senate bill eliminates the $5 billion a year in direct payments given to farmers regardless of need in favor of a new revenue insurance program that would protect farmers against “shallow losses” caused by low prices of poor yields. Crop insurance would kick in to cover larger losses.
The current farm bill expires at the end of September, but it’s unclear whether Congress can pass a bill by then. The House is calling for far greater cuts, particularly in food stamps.
According to The Hill, the Senate panel began marking up a five-year farm bill on Thursday despite opposition from Southern senators worried about how the bill could hurt peanut and rice farmers. The markup initially was delayed to try to work out differences, but lawmakers forged ahead Thursday and expect to report out the bill by the end of the day.
A series of hurdles remain that could threaten to derail passage this year, including a vote before the full Senate and the need to iron out any differences with the U.S. House, which has targeted far more aggressive cuts of as much as $33 billion including a larger reduction in spending for food stamps. The White House has proposed farm subsidies cut similar to the House.