(October 14, 2011) - In early October, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, author of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in 1985 and Chair of the “Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee in 1996” when Freedom to Farm was adopted, announced the introduction of a farm bill proposal that would save “$40 billion in USDA Cuts to Help Meet Federal Deficit Reduction Goals.” The bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Marlin Stutzman, also of Indiana.
According to a Lugar Press release: “The Rural Economic Farm and Ranch Sustainability and Hunger Act (REFRESH) would reform farm programs, cutting $16 billion, a 24.5 percent reduction. Conservation programs would be updated and streamlined for a savings of $11.3 billion, a 17.6 percent reduction. Nutrition program eligibility loopholes would be closed saving $13.9 billion, only a 2 percent reduction. Roughly two-thirds of the savings would come from farm and conservation programs, and a third from nutrition programs, which represent three-fourths of the USDA budget.”
(November 24, 2010) - What a difference an election makes when it comes to writing a new farm bill. Before November 2, 2010, House Agriculture Committee Chair Colin Peterson (D-MN) wanted to write the new farm bill in 2011. In the new Congress, he will be the Ranking member and Frank Lucas (R-OK), who will be the new Agriculture Committee Chair, has indicated that he prefers 2012.
The Senate Agriculture Committee will have a new chair, as a result of Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln’s loss in her bid for re-election. Because the Democrats retained control of the Senate, albeit by a smaller margin, they will have to appoint a new chair.
In addition to Lucas’ desire to move slowly on writing a new farm bill, as a result of the election, at least 20 of the 46 members of the House Ag Committee will be new, both to the House and the Committee. The new members will face a steep learning curve in order to become conversant in the arcane details of the farm bill and the many programs it encompasses. If for no other reason than that, it would be unrealistic to expect to see legislation move quickly through the committee.