Farmers’ wish list for farm bill talks includes limits on EPA regs

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, October 21, 2013

The final farm bill should limit U.S. EPA regulations on farmers and keep federal crop insurance subsidies robust, the American Farm Bureau Federation this week told members of the committee that will reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill.The bureau also said it would like to see the farm and nutrition portions of the bills remain combined and the final bill retain a “permanent law” provision that has helped ensure a new bill is written roughly every five years, Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman wrote in a letter laying out the group’s wish list for conference negotiations.

“Farm Bureau’s two overarching concerns for conference are ensuring that a complete, unified farm bill continues and that permanent law is not repealed,” Stallman said in the letter dated Tuesday.

Farm bill leaders met earlier this week in preparation for the full conference committee negotiations that are expected to begin shortly to hash out an agreement between the House’s farm bill, H.R. 2642, and the Senate version, S. 954.

The huge gap between the bills’ proposed reductions to the national food stamp program — the Senate bill proposes a cut of $4 billion over the next decade, while the House proposes a cut of nearly $40 billion — is expected to be the major point of contention.

There are, however, several other areas where negotiators will have to iron out differences. The bills dole out farm subsidies differently, and the Senate bill proposes to tie conservation requirements to federal crop insurance payments. The Senate version also includes $900 million in mandatory funding for rural energy programs, while the House version does not, and the House bill takes jabs at several EPA regulations.

In general, the Farm Bureau is urging negotiators to retain provisions in the bills that attempt to reduce regulations’ impacts on agriculture and opposes restricting the federal subsidies that farmers receive each year for insurance on their crops.

The farm group said it supports House measures that would exempt small farms from complying with federal oil spill regulations if they store oil in aboveground tanks on their lands and require EPA to consult with the Agriculture Department in adopting modeling that measures nutrient runoff in the Chesapeake Bay region.

The bureau also backs a provision that would prohibit EPA from disclosing personal information on livestock producers, Stallman said. That measure comes in response to the agency’s release of hundreds of pages of documents earlier this year that contained information on the nation’s concentrated animal feeding operations to three environmental groups.

The bureau said it supports House measures that specify that seeds treated with pesticides cannot be considered pesticides themselves, that call for improved coordination among federal agencies in addressing honeybee decline, and that bar states from restricting the way livestock and crops can be produced.

In his letter, Stallman also reiterated his group’s opposition to requiring farmers to comply with basic conservation measures and to meet means-testing requirements in order to receive crop insurance subsidies. The Senate bill includes both conservation compliance and a limit on subsidies for farmers who make more than $750,000 a year in adjusted gross income.

“Farm Bureau has a long history of opposing means testing of farm program benefits, regardless of the program in question,” Stallman said. “These kinds of arbitrary tests are just that, arbitrary limits placed on productive farmers and ranchers that are often among the most innovative and progressive producers in agriculture.”

Stallman urged negotiators to reject a provision contained in the House bill that would repeal 1938 and 1949 permanent laws that set a supply-side management regime into motion for agriculture. The laws, which kick in if Congress fails to pass a new farm bill, have provided the impetus for passing new legislation roughly every five years.

“Repealing those acts and making the 2013 farm bill commodity title permanent law could make it difficult in the future to generate sufficient political pressure” to change farm subsidies and continue conservation programs, Stallman warned.

The National Farmers Union, a separate agriculture trade group, this week also urged Congress to keep the permanent laws in place, but its position diverged in some areas. In a letter, NFU President Roger Johnson urged lawmakers to retain the conservation requirements for crop insurance subsidies on highly erodible land and wetlands and said his group would like to see the final conference report include the Senate bill’s $900 million in mandatory funding for rural energy programs.