Today the Senate completed work on the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012 (Farm Bill), passing the measure by a vote of 64 to 35. As a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Senator Thune helped draft a Farm Bill that significantly reforms or eliminates current programs. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects this Farm Bill will provide a savings of over $23.6 billion over the next 10 years compared to current policy.
“Today’s Senate vote to pass a bipartisan, reform focused Farm Bill is an important victory for America’s farmers and consumers,” said Thune. “During the amendment process, a bipartisan amendment I cosponsored was accepted by a wide margin to increase the authorization for the program I authored in the Forestry Title to fight the growing pine beetle epidemic. This bill exceeds our $23 billion savings goal under last year’s Budget Control Act, provides a strong safety-net for farmers and ranchers only when it is needed, and consolidates and makes common-sense improvements to conservation programs.”
Thune played a key role in designing the Commodity Title of the bill which eliminates the Direct and Counter-cyclical payment programs and the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program at a savings of over $50 billion and replaces them with a new Average Risk Coverage (ARC) program (at a cost of $28.9 billion). The ARC program payments may not exceed $50,000 per entity, or $100,000 for a husband and wife operation. The Commodity Title ARC program was created using the Aggregate Revenue and Risk Management (ARRM) program Senator Thune introduced late last year and which was scored by CBO as saving more than $20 billion over 10 years.
An amendment Senator Thune offered during floor debate resulted in a U.S. Department of Agriculture study that must be completed before a $750,000 average adjusted gross income (AGI) limitation for producers who purchase crop insurance could become effective – largely due to concerns that such a limitation would change the insurance risk pool and negatively impact producers who have an AGI below $750,000.
The Farm Bill as passed today would combine the current 23 conservation programs into 13 and extend the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) through 2017. The CRP enrollment cap will be reduced to 25 million acres by 2017.
Current crop insurance policy encourages the conversion of native sod and grassland to commodity crop production. During the Senate Agriculture Committee’s markup of the bill, a Thune amendment was accepted which will reduce the amount of crop insurance premium assistance for four years on crops grown on native sod and longstanding grasslands and reduce indemnity levels to match the productivity of the insured land, in order to discourage abuse and conversion of grasslands to cropland for crop insurance benefits. Thune’s amendment saves nearly $200 million over 10 years.
Based on a bill Thune introduced in March to address the pine beetle infestation, language was included in the Forestry Title that requires the Secretary of Agriculture to designate at least one national forest in each state within 60 days of enactment of this bill as a special treatment area based on declining forest health (such as the pine beetle epidemic in the Black Hills) if requested by the Governor of the state. The pine beetle infestation has killed over 41 million acres of trees in the Western United States. The Senate agreed to an amendment by Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.), cosponsored by Thune, to authorize $200 million for each Fiscal Year 2013 through 2017 for this provision.
The 2008 Farm Bill Authorization expires on September 30, 2012 and unless President Obama signs a new Farm Bill into law, or if the current Farm Bill is not extended by that date, the 1949 Act would go into effect.