What a Week In the Senate!

The Senate voted to put a quick end to the debates on the amendments this week.  Below is an excerpt from the Rural Coalition providing a recap for the week's Senate debates and priority amendments.  As always, we'd like to hear from you! Please send us a message or like us on Facebook and leave a comment.  Until Monday...Have a great weekend!

From the Rural Coalition:


The US Senate, having agreed on Thursday to limit debate on the Farm Bill that is still pending on the Senate Floor, still has the option of considering some of the many amendments that have been introduced.  Our sense is that while any agreement on a finite list of amendments still eludes them, Senators continue to work behind the scenes.  While hope is fading, it is still possible they will arrive at an agreement to consider a small number of amendments.

If no agreement is reached, they will only vote on the Leahy amendment that is officially still pending (#998 - would establish a pilot program for gigabit internet projects in rural areas) and final passage, probably on Monday.  We should know more by then. If an agreement is reached on a package of amendments, it is important to note that both amendments we like and don't like; and/or amendments considered non-controversial, may be considered.

As the Senate can be as unpredictable as the weather, we suggest that groups in the field continue reaching out to their Senators on the issues most important to their constituencies. We are powerful in numbers, so we need you to act individually and keep reaching out to both your Senators in every state where you work and live.  REACH out to the Senators in your state now before we miss this important opportunity to amend S. 954, the 2013 Farm Bill. 

At stake are many important issues, so please urge Senators to SUPPORT the following priority amendments:

  •  Udall (NM) - Heinrich (NM) (#1055) Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Producer Training - SUPPORT

The Outreach and Assistance Program for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers and Veteran Farmers and Rancher (also known as the 2501 Program) is a historic program that provides competitive grants to educational institutions, Extension, and community-based organizations to assist African-American, American-Indian, Asian-American and Latino farmers and ranchers in owning and operating farms and participating in USDA programs. The committee-passed bill expands program eligibility requirements to include veteran farmers and ranchers and funds this program at $10 million annually, about half of previous funding. The amendment would restore funding of $17 million annually in order to serve both the traditional and new producers now eligible for the program.


  • Udall (NM) - Heinrich (NM) (#1045) Receipt for Service  - SUPPORT

This amendment adds authority to require the issuance of a receipt for service or denial of service to any current or prospective participant in USDA programs serving farmers and ranchers as operated by the Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources and Conservation Service and in any other USDA program directly serving producers.  In a time of tight resources, a receipt for service will help assure that all farmers and ranchers receive clear information on programs available to them and what they need to do to access them, and verify that information has been provided.


  • Udall (NM) - Heinrich (NM) (# 1048) EQIP Community Irrigation Association Language - SUPPORT

The amendment defines eligible community irrigation associations and would allow USDA to make alternate payment arrangements so members of irrigation associations including acequias could receive support for conservation practices through their association so long as the payment limit for any individual producers in the association is not exceeded.  This would allow NRCS to do a single contract for an irrigation-wide community project rather than a series of individual producer contracts for the same project.  


  •  Udall (NM) - Heinrich (NM) (# 1049) EQIP Irrigation Water Saving - SUPPORT

This amendment would strengthen in the requirements Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to assure producers who use EQIP funds for irrigation not only to improve their irrigation systems but also to achieve true water savings.  This would ensure that USDA payments for irrigation efficiency also generate water conservation benefits, such as enhanced in-stream flow and water storage.  


  • Brown (OH) - Tester (MT) - Heinrich (NM) - Schatz (HI) - Gillibrand (NY) - Reed(RI) - Wyden (OR) - Cowan (MA) (#1088) To Encourage Food And Agriculture Market Development, Entrepreneurship, And Education - SUPPORT

This comprehensive amendment provides much-needed funding and a few important technical policy changes to a handful of key programs that support development of a more resilient food system.  These changes and the funding the amendment provides make strides towards aligning our agriculture, health, and economic policy in ways that ensure farmers get a fair price for their product, all Americans have access to affordable, healthy food, and that both contribute to strong communities and a thriving economy.

The amendment increases mandatory funding in the Community Food Program from $5 million to $10 million per year, in the Food and Agriculture Service Learning Program to $15 million in mandatory funding over the life of the farm bill, and in the Value-Added Producer Grants Program from $12.5 million to $20 million per year, in the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program from $20 million to $30 million per year and in the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program from $20.6 million to $23.1 million in FY2014 and to $25.6 million per year in FY2015 - FY2018. In the Business and Industry Loan Program it modifies the existing set-aside for loans for local food enterprises to eliminate a burdensome third party labeling requirement, to clarify that project priorities include creating new market opportunities for farmers, increasing good food access in underserved communities, and supporting comprehensive regional economic development strategies, and to provide flexibility for USDA to reduce barriers to participation.


  • Casey (PA) - Harkin (IA) (#986) Microloans - SUPPORT

The amendment would authorize micro-lending opportunities within the Department of Agriculture by creating a new simplified loan category within the Farm Service Agency's direct operating loan portfolio.  If adopted, this provision would authorize USDA's Farm Service Agency to make small loans up to $35,000.  The new loan program would be funded out of the existing direct operating loan portfolio, and would streamline the application process to facilitate participation. This amendment would also give FSA discretionary authority to establish a cooperative lending program to allow USDA-selected intermediaries (such as non-governmental or community-based organizations, state departments of agriculture, and economic development councils) to make microloans to eligible borrowers.    


  • Tester (MT) (#1080) Public Breeding for Food Security- SUPPORT

Farmer access to seeds and breeds adapted to their regions and specific farming and market needs is paramount to fostering the competitiveness of agriculture and ensuring future national food security. This amendment would designate conventional breeding for public cultivar and breed development as a high priority research area within the Department of Agriculture.  The amendment would also remove hurdles that have hindered USDA's efforts to address this need, including establishing a unified definition to ensure public breedingresearch is being funded through USDA.

  • Leahy (VT) - Collins (ME) (#1093) EQIP Organic Initiative Payment Limit Elimination - SUPPORT

This amendment eliminates the separate payment limit for farmers participating in the EQIP Organic Initiative so that all farmers are subject to the same payment limitations in EQIP.


  • Grassley (IA) and Brown (OH) (#969) Special Counsel for Livestock Competition - SUPPORT

This amendment establishes an Office of Competition and Fair Practices headed by a Special Counsel for Competition Matters for the purpose of investigating and prosecuting violations under the Packers and Stockyards Act and coordinating antitrust enforcement between the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Agriculture is one of the most consolidated sectors in the U.S. economy, but the federal antitrust and competition oversight of the food and agriculture sector is fragmented, with uncoordinated oversight shared among USDA, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. The lack of coherent jurisdiction is further complicated by the increasing vertical integration in the sector, where some firms and combinations of firms require monitoring by more than one agency. The Grassley amendment creates a USDA special counsel on agricultural competition to coordinate and oversee competition and antitrust enforcement activities among the federal agencies.


  • Rockefeller (WV) - Tester (MT) and Johnson (D-SD) (#993) Prohibiting Retaliation Against Farmers Who Speak Up - SUPPORT

It has become common for livestock and poultry companies to retaliate against contract farmers who speak up about abusive contracting practices. The amendment clarifies that it is a clear violation of the Packers and Stockyards Act for companies to retaliate against farmers for exercising their legal rights, such as talking to federal agency officials or members of Congress about their farming operations and contracts. It would prohibits meatpackers from taking any kind of retaliatory action against livestock producers who speak out and would put an end to the ongoing actions by meatpackers who retaliate against producers who complain to federal agencies and to their members of Congress.


  • Tester (MT) (#971) Requiring An Annual USDA Report On Concentration In the Agriculture And Food Industries - SUPPORT 

Despite the dramatic concentration of the agriculture and food sectors, USDA lacks comprehensive, sector-wide and timely information about the overall state of competitiveness in the agriculture and food sector from seed to supermarket. The Tester amendment requires USDA to collect information on the consolidation levels throughout the food and farm sector and issue an annual report to the House and Senate Agriculture Committees that includes statistics relating to the four largest firms in agriculture markets.


  • Enzi (WY) - Johnson (SD) (#982) Livestock Marketing - SUPPORT

A large portion of cattle are sold through formula contracts and marketing agreements are negotiated in secret, which gives packers all the information and market power and forces livestock producers to accept "formula" prices that are finalized on delivery instead of firm, base prices when the contracts are signed. The Enzi amendment prohibits the use of anti-competitive forward contracts, otherwise known as un-priced formula contracts and requires all marketing arrangements to use firm, fixed base prices for marketing arrangements to ensure that cattle producers are fairly paid for their livestock. This amendment is absolutely critical as it will immediately stop the packers from accumulating large volumes of un-priced captives supply livestock, which they use to drive down the cash market. 


  • Boxer (CA) (#1026) GE Labeling Amendment - SUPPORT

This amendment expresses the sense of the Senate that the United States should join 64 other nations in giving their consumers the right to know whether there are genetically engineered ingredients in their food.  At least 93 percent of Americans want to know whether there are GE ingredients in their food, regardless of race, income, education, or party affiliation and 26 states are moving to require GE labeling.


  • Merkley (OR) - Tester (MT) - Blumenthal (CT) - Begich (AK) - Heinrich (NM) - Boxer (CA)(#978) - Repeal of Biotechnology Rider in the Continuing Resolution

The Continuing Resolution passed by Congress earlier this year contained a provision that strips federal courts of the authority to halt the sale or planting of biotechnology products that have not been adequately reviewed for their economic and environmental impacts.  This amendment would strike that harmful provision.


  • Coburn (OK) - Durbin (IL) - McCain (AZ) (#953) Limit crop insurance subsidies for wealthiest farmers - SUPPORT (This amendment passed 59-33 on 5/23/2013)

This amendment would reduce the level of federal premium support for crop insurance participants with an Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) over $750,000 by 15 percentage points for all buy-up policies beyond catastrophic coverage.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates this amendment, which affects less than 1 percent of farmers, would save more than $1.2 billion dollars over ten years.

Furthermore, we support any amendment that would extend the premium reductions and waivers for supplied in crop insurance to beginning and limited resource farmers and ranchers to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.  All three groups are provided premium reductions in the NAP (Non Insured Disaster Assistance Program) in the Miscellaneous Title.


We urge Senators to OPPOSE the following amendments:

  • Roberts (KS) - The following amendments reduce SNAP funding:
  • Roberts (#949)- To eliminate the low-income home energy assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - OPPOSE

This amendment eliminates the SNAP 'Heat and Eat' Program by reducing benefits to those who also receive energy assistance.

  • Roberts (#950)- To eliminate duplicative employment and training programs from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - OPPOSE

This amendment eliminates the SNAP employment and training program.


  • Sessions (AL) - Both of the following amendments reduce SNAP funding:
  • Sessions (#946) - To terminate the current Partnership for Nutrition Assistance Initiative between the United States and Mexico - OPPOSE

This amendment terminates the current Partnership for Nutrition Assistance Initiative between the U.S. and Mexico. This Partnership, established by the Bush Administration, helps low-income, legal immigrant (often citizen) children access food, allowing them to be healthier, better educated children with brighter futures.

  • Sessions (#947)- To require the use of the systematic alien verification for entitlements program in the administration of the supplemental nutrition assistance program - OPPOSE

This amendment requires all members of a household applying for SNAP to provide documentation of citizenship or immigration status.  If each household member could not meet the documentation requirements, then the entire household would be ineligible.  Currently, states may not deny SNAP to eligible individuals based on the status of other family members who are not seeking services. Research shows that this new requirement would adversely impact senior citizens, especially African Americans, who live in rural areas because they do not have a birth certificate.  Some may have never been issued a birth certificate because their birth was not officially registered - in some cases due to racial discrimination in hospitals, or poverty which prevented access to hospital care. Imposing these new requirements would create enormous administrative hurdles for the most vulnerable, delay benefits for needy households who must seek original birth certificates, and terminate benefits to individuals who cannot access such documentation.


  • Thune (SD) (#991) Cuts to SNAP Education - OPPOSE

Would cut SNAP Nutrition Education by $2.1 billion by reducing state's funding to $5 per SNAP participant.