Rice Farming

 - USA Rice Federation Update -

Conference committee, White House hold outcome of Farm Bill

By Paul T. Combs
Outgoing Chairman
USA Rice Producers’ Group and Missouri rice farmer

Senate passage of the Farm Bill last month marked a major milestone in the more than two-year long struggle to achieve new farm legislation in a tight budgetary environment. Conference committee negotiations are now under way with final passage of a new Farm Bill expected between now and mid-February.

After that, it is up to the president to ensure with his signature that the United States is able to continue maintaining production of a safe, abundant and affordable food supply for American citizens by ensuring a strong safety for farmers in the face of environmental and international trade challenges.

The Farm Bills passed in the House and Senate do that to the greatest extent possible given the challenges we face on so many fronts, and USA Rice Federation members were instrumental in the bills’ passage. At least 15 USA Rice leadership visited Wash-ington this year in more than a dozen trips for meetings devoted to Farm Bill work.

The result? The Senate passed its Farm Bill on Dec. 14 in a 79-14 vote. The House passed its version of the bill on July 27 in a 231-191 vote, with 19 Republicans voting with the majority.

Senate amendment challenges
Among the serious challenges to agriculture, especially to rice, were a series of Senate amendments proposed during the last several months designed to strip farmers of a meaningful safety net.

Notable among the most recent were:

• An amendment advanced by Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) to lower farm program payment limits – rejected Dec. 13, 56-43 (required a 60-vote majority for passage).

• Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-MN) proposal to lower the adjusted gross income amount for farm program eligibility – rejected Dec. 13 in a 48-47 vote (required a 60-vote majority).

• An amendment sponsored by Sens. Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) that would have crippled the Senate Farm Bill’s commodity title safety net – rejected Dec. 11 in a 58 to 37 vote. Ten of 12 rice-state senators opposed that amendment.

Rice state Sens. Lincoln (D-AR), Pryor (D-AR), Landrieu (D-LA), Vitter (R-LA), Bond (R-MO), Cornyn (R-TX) Hutchison (R-TX), Lott (R-MS) and Cochran (R-MS), voted against the Klobuchar amendment. They and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) voted against the Dorgan-Grassley amendment.

Sens. Lincoln and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) were key floor leaders who spoke in strong opposition to the amendments. Pryor and Landrieu joined them in staunchly opposing the Dorgan-Grassley amendment and supporting rice producers. They spoke to the need for a strong farm safety net, U.S. food security and crop production diversity.

The House also had its Farm-Bill amendment challenges over the summer, most notably the Kind/Flake amendment, which also would have gutted the farm programs safety net. The House defeated that amendment July 26 in a 117-309 vote.

Thank lawmakers and staffs for outstanding support
Rice producers are wholly thankful and appreciative of the positions taken and work done by the representatives and senators who courageously and vociferously supported our industry. I hope all of you will take the time to contact your lawmakers and their staffs to thank them for what they have done for us and for our communities. And I hope you’ll remember to do that all over again after we have a new farm law.

That said, thank all of you for your support in the Farm Bill process over the last two years. While it may not be practical for everyone to visit congressional leaders in Washington, many of you testified in public hearings held throughout the country, made phone calls and wrote letters to lawmakers – many of you more than once.

Some of you were also available to answer reporters’ questions, gaining public exposure that you weren’t really looking for. These efforts – including participating in meetings with peers and USA Rice staff members – were crucial to the passage of a Farm Bill that is fair to U.S. farmers and beneficial to American taxpayers and consumers.

The bills that were sent to the Conference committee were really the best possible for rice farmers in the current Congress, and the USA Rice Federation will continue its Capitol Hill vigilance to ensure the best possible outcome for a Farm Bill for our industry.

It has been a pleasure to serve as point person for our industry during the Farm Bill process, and I will not sit idly on the sidelines until we have the president’s signature on a farm law that will keep us viable at home and competitive in world markets. I look forward to seeing many of you Feb. 11-14 at the Government Affairs Conference in Washington.

For more about USA Rice programs, visit www.usarice.com.