The U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry approved Thursday the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012.The bill reforms food and agriculture policy by eliminating direct payments and emphasizing the need to strengthen risk management tools for farmers.  Overall, the bill will reduce the deficit by $23 billion dollars over 10 years by eliminating subsidies, consolidating programs to end duplication, and cracking down on food assistance abuse.

Farmers will no longer be paid for crops they are not growing, will not be paid for acres that are not actually planted, and will not receive support absent a drop in price or yields.  The bill consolidates two remaining farm programs into one, will give farmers the ability to tailor risk management coverage, strengthens crop insurance, and expands access so farmers are not wiped out by a bad weather.

The bill also consolidated 23 existing conservation programs into 13, increases accountability for feeding programs, expands export opportunities, and helps farmers develop new markets for their goods. The Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development programs were funded for the life of the Farm Bill at $200 million and $34.5 million, respectively.

An amendment offered by Senators Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) was approved that would restore $800 million in mandatory funding to the Farm Bill energy title and funds advancements in bio-energy production, like advanced biomass energy production such as cellulosic ethanol and pellets from woody biomass for power.

Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) said the bill is problematic because it would repeal all current commodity support programs and institute a single revenue program that does not provide equal coverage for all crops. For example, Cochran said, baseline funding for rice production is decreased by roughly 70 percent, a significantly disproportionate reduction compared to many other commodities.  Rice and peanut production would effectively be left without a reasonable form of price protections.  “I know that producing major legislation like the Farm Bill is difficult and even more so when constrained by serious budget limitations.  While I’m disappointed in the bill as it stands now, I commend Chairman Stabenow (D-MI) and Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) for their efforts and I look forward to working with them to end up with a final bill that continues the committee’s history of providing equitable coverage for all commodities in all regions.”

No date has been announced for consideration on the Senate floor.

In related news, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development approved funding of $510 million to help establish commercial advanced, drop-in biofuel refineries.