The House Agriculture Committee begins its formal consideration of the Farm Bill today, Wednesday, July 11th. Well over a hundred amendments are expected to be offered by committee members. However, Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and the ranking Democrat, Rep. Collin Peterson (MN), intend to push through them and hope to have the Committee approve a bill, with strong bipartisan support, by the end of the week. The Senate has already passed its version of the Farm Bill.
The big issues in this Farm Bill debate are overall spending, food stamps, crop insurance, and the elimination of direct payments to commodity farmers. These are the areas that impact about 85% of the Farm Bill bottom line. The House version the Ag Committee is considering cuts about $35 billion in spending over ten years, while the Senate cut about $23 billion. Food stamp program cuts in the House version total approximately $16 billion, while the Senate cut $4 billion. In addition to overall savings and food stamp cuts, the two versions of the bill differ in how crop insurance is calculated for the big commodity crops. Assuming the House passes a bill, the differences between the two versions would have to be worked out in a conference committee.
Fortunately, the Senate bill contained strong specialty crop provisions, and the House starting point is even stronger in several respects. The version being taken up by the Ag Committee recommends solid funding for specialty crops, including nursery and floriculture crops. Many of these programs support infrastructure that contributes to industry success. As of now, proposed House funding levels for the programs most relevant to nursery and greenhouse growers are as follows:
- The Pest & Disease and National Clean Plant Network (NCPN) programs, combined, would receive $357.5 million in funding over five years;
- The Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) would be funded at $200 million over five years;
- The Specialty Crop Block Grant program would receive $350 million over five years.
The full 557 page draft that the House Agriculture Committee is now debating can be found here