Senate moves to make its ag reform intentions clear

The future of the farm bill may be in limbo, but fortunately, unlike their House counterparts, the Senate is using this waiting period to push for further agriculture reform. Led by Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., the Senate today will confirm its intention to remove all direct payments from the final bill during conference with the House.

The Senate-passed farm bill took a big step toward reform by completely eliminating the 17-year-old “direct payments” system, which provided funding to certain farmers annually, regardless of whether or not they planted any crops. The House, on the other hand, carved out an exemption in its bill that temporarily preserves direct payments for cotton farmers, reducing their funding to 70 percent in 2014 and 60 percent in 2015 before phasing the program out altogether. This one provision adds more than $820 million to the bill’s cost.

There’s no reason, other than politics, to allow cotton farmers to keep their benefits. Seventeen crops currently receive direct payments, but cotton is the only industry exempt from direct payments’ demise. For the other sixteen crops, federally subsidized crop insurance will become the main support. On top of the $823 million in direct payments cotton farmers will continue to receive, they will also be moved into a separate insurance program, called STAX, which will subsidize 80 percent of these farmers’ premiums, as opposed to 62 percent on average for traditional crop insurance.

Today at 4 p.m., Flake will secure commitment on the Senate floor from Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., to remove this wasteful provision. Members of the House, particularly Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., who himself receives direct payments for cotton farming, continually tout that their bill ends direct payments despite the carve out. Fortunately for those of us who are actually reform minded, the Senate is here to ensure they keep this promise.

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