● The U.S. Senate’s version of the Farm Bill, S. 3240, passed last Thursday by a vote of 64 to 35. Attention now pivots to the House of Representatives, where committee action on the Farm Bill will likely start the week of July 9. While great pressure for passage is being exerted by advocates of a new Farm Bill, both the demands of other important pending legislation and the scarcity of time for floor debate make getting to enactment before this fall’s general election a significant challenge. For example, the House has only 29 days scheduled between July I and November 6 for its legislative business.
● The Market Access Program (MAP) survived a spirited challenge by Senator Coburn (R/Oklahoma): his amendment to dramatically reduce MAP was defeated by a roll call vote of 30 to 69. The Coalition to Promote U. S. Agricultural Exports, which counts the Northwest Horticultural Council as a founding member and which is led by Jay Howell, played the lead role in educating senators to the continued economic importance of this export marketing program administered by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.
● Among the various amendments adopted during the Farm Bill’s debate was an especially sensible one offered by Senator Feinstein (D/California). It calls for a study by the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation on how best to provide specialty crop growers reasonable insurance coverage against economic loss from an adverse food safety or contamination incident.
● The biggest individual winner in the U.S. Senate as a result of last week’s passage of the Farm Bill is Senator Stabenow (D/Michigan), who showed she could handle floor debate on complex legislation, while keeping bipartisan support intact for her committee’s work product. Senator Stabenow is chairwoman of the United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. It was extremely helpful for our nation’s produce industry to have a leader from a specialty crop state like Michigan at the helm of this committee this year, a committee traditionally dominated by Midwest and Southern large crop (wheat, soybeans, corn, cotton, etc.) interests.
● If the Farm Bill doesn’t get signed by the president before November 6, it almost certainly will then descend into the dark chaos represented by a special post-election meeting of the 112th Congress—a lame duck session that will also seek both to determine income tax rates and to fix a pernicious federal budget deficit.