Although the Senate and House agriculture committees have been active this spring with hearings and farm bill development, there's a long way to go before new legislation is in place.
How does the progress of the 2012 farm bill legislation look thus far?
The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry Committee reported a bill that reduces future outlays by more than $23 billion. We do not know when the full Senate will consider the bill. Although the Direct and Counter-Cyclical and ACRE programs were repealed, the NCC believes the Committee's package will provide U.S. cotton producers with useful risk management tools that will respond to weather and market conditions that are beyond producers' control.
The bill includes the NCC's Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX) and modified marketing assistance loan program – both de-signed to meet budget challenges and resolve the Brazil World Trade Or-ganization (WTO) case. In addition to the STAX revenue insurance product, the bill's improvements to crop in-surance include making enterprise units with irrigated and non-irrigated provisions permanent and the establishment of a new Supplemental Coverage Option. Among other positives were the extension of the extra-long staple cotton loan and competitiveness provisions; continuation of the economic assistance for U.S. textile mills; and ongoing support of the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Program, two important trade titles that undergird U.S. cotton exports. Details of the Committee's package and a side-by-side comparison can be accessed from the "Farm Bill" icon on the NCC's home page, www.cotton.org.
What about House action?
The House Agriculture Committee completed its series of field and D.C. farm policy hearings in mid-May. As it did at Senate hearings, the NCC testified about the importance of completing the farm bill in advance of the current legislation's expiration in September. We emphasized the importance that budget constraints and farm program critics not be allowed to undermine the farm safety net's effectiveness. We also called for a range of farm programs structured to address the needs of the different commodities and production regions.
The House Committee is scheduled to mark up its farm bill legislation in June with floor time uncertain. We are concerned that floor debate in the House will be conducted under open rule, opening the door for damaging amendments. After the Senate and House approve their respective farm bills, the legislation must be reconciled in a House-Senate conference session before final Congressional passage. When that will occur could be affected by the November elections, and a lame duck session is almost certain. Because the entire House budget, which passed on March 29, significantly reduces caps on discretionary spending, the appropriations process has become more complex and undoubtedly will be a factor in the farm bill passage timetable. In the meantime, the NCC will continue to work with Congress and the Admin-istration to stress that the STAX plan and marketing assistance loan program modifications provide a solid basis for resolving the WTO case with Brazil.
Mark Lange is president and chief executive officer for the National Cotton Council of America. He and other NCC leaders contribute columns on this Cotton Farming page.