When the Farm Bill was drafted in Committee, Southern senators felt like their key commodities (rice, peanuts, etc.) were not being treated equitably with the northern crops, and they were not supportive of the bill. This, along with other political and non-farm related frustrations between Republicans and Democrats, brought a level of political hostility toward anything coming to the Senate floor. Given the political cross-currents, the Senate courageously took up the Farm Bill on June 13. And the first vote to be taken was an amendment to kill the sugar program that was offered by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D- New Hampshire). A motion to table (kill) the amendment passed, 50-46.
The Senate then agreed to limit the 300 requested amendments to 73, with a total of two minutes of debate for each amendment that would be divided equally between the proponents and opponents of the amendment. You can't say much in one minute. But various senators wanted roll call votes on their specific issue, so senators were constantly voting over the course of the bill. A second anti-sugar amendment was offered by Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) to effectively remove all of the key provisions that were added to the 2008 bill that have given our industry the needed stability for the past four years. After a very tough battle, the amendment was rejected, 46-53.
Then a third amendment was raised by Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia) to push the date when the Secretary of Agriculture can increase imports from all of our foreign suppliers back from April 1 to February 1. This would allow additional sugar to be imported sooner in the year, but there is no requirement for the Secretary to take action at that time. This amendment passed on a voice vote.
In the end, the Senate passed the Farm Bill by a vote of 64-35. Thanks to our grower leaders and your senators for their hard work to get this bill through the Senate. It is also a tribute to Committee Chairwoman Stabenow (D-Michigan) and Ranking Member Roberts (R-Kansas) for their leadership and bipartisanship to achieve what many thought would be impossible.
The House Agriculture Committee waited until the Senate acted on the Farm Bill because they needed evidence that passage of a bill in the House would not simply languish and die in the Senate. Now there is pressure on the House to act. As we move to the House (as of June 29), we find an even more difficult political environment than the Senate. This is all magnified by the fact that elections are a little over three months away.
The Committee is scheduled to finalize their draft of the Farm Bill on July 11. The two biggest issues to watch are the proposals for the southern crops (rice, peanuts, etc.) that will differ from the Senate- passed bill. The House will provide more "equity" between the southern and northern crops, which should bring a unified agricultural industry and its supporters to fight for one another in a floor debate.
The second issue is food stamp (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP) cuts. Republicans want deep cuts in SNAP that many Democrats in the House will not support, and will clearly not get the support in the Senate. Presuming that the Ag Committee completes its work on the 11th, there will only be 13 legislative days before they break for the August recess. When the House returns after Labor Day, there will be only 13 legislative days before the November elections.
The Administration and the Senate want the House to move on the bill before the August recess so it can be conferenced (where the differences are worked out between the two bills) and then submitted as a conference report back to both Houses for final passage in September before the current bill expires on September 30. In reality, as of late June, there is no certainty as to when the bill will be considered on the House floor.
We expect anti-sugar policy amendments on the House floor, just as we saw in the Senate. A tremendous amount of work is being done by your industry leaders-as well as our opponents, the sugar users-as this debate prepares for floor action.
The agricultural appropriations bill was to be considered the week of June 25, but due to other higher priority issues, it will now have to be pushed to late July, or simply bundled with other unfinished measures at the end of the year.
The final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was published on June 8 and is open for public review and comment until July 8. The final draft is very comprehensive and well done by USDA-APHIS. At some point in late July or early August, we should see a Record of Decision (ROD) from the Administration as to the final regulatory status of Roundup Ready sugarbeets.
2013 ASGA Annual Meeting
2013 ASGA Annual Meeting, February 3-5, at the Hilton Bayfront in San Diego, Calif. Hotel reservations can be made through the ASGA website or by calling 800-445-8667. The group rate of $249 will be available until January 9. Meeting registration begins November 1.
Many thanks to Leah Kramer (Bird Island, Minnesota), our intern for 2012. She did an outstanding job in helping us during critical times in the battle over the Farm Bill. We deeply appreciate her hard work and commitment to helping sugarbeet growers across our nation fight for a strong sugar policy. It was a privilege to have her as part of our team.