WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., voted against a farm policy bill Thursday saying it would have "a devastating impact" on southern agriculture.
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., voted against a farm policy bill Thursday saying it would have “a devastating impact” on southern agriculture.
The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee voted, 12-5, in favor of the 900-page reauthorization bill that would replace direct payments with new crop insurance programs.
“I can’t support something that does not provide the safety net that southern farmers need,” Boozman said.
Peanuts and rice are not traded commodities – like corn or wheat – pricing is more susceptible to fluctuation. And, rice relies on irrigation systems powered by diesel, which can be costly. Those risks – not addressed by crop insurance – could turn off lenders, officials say.
“My concern and the producers concern is that when they go to the banks to borrow for planting the banks won’t lend,” Boozman said.
Sens. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., also opposed the bill over the changes to commodity programs.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who chairs the committee, said that approval of the bill is a “first step” in getting the farm bill reauthorized this year.
And, Stabenow assured Boozman and others that she would work with them to address their concerns moving forward.
The House Agriculture Committee has yet to draft a farm bill, but Boozman said he expects members there will be more sensitive to the concerns of southern farmers.
The current five-year bill expires at the end of September.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the ranking Republican on the committee, supported the bill saying it is a bipartisan effort to strengthen the safety net for farmers while also saving taxpayers $24.7 billion through streamlining and consolidation of programs.
“This is a reform bill,” Roberts said.
The overall program
Boozman does support some aspects of the Senate bill, particularly a provision that would expand the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s BioPreferred Program to include wood products.
The change, he said, would benefit Arkansas’ forestry industry.
U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., filed legislation Thursday to address the same issue. He said that participation in the USDA program would allow wood, pulp and paper products to be labeled as biobased so they could receive increased consumer attention as well as federal government procurement preference.
“This designation levels the playing field between domestically-produced wood products and imported products such as Chinese bamboo, which is already eligible for the biobased label and is used as a “green” alternative for hardwood flooring or lumber,” Pryor said.
Boozman said he would also like to see the bill amended to include more Republican advocated reforms to the federal food stamp program.
In particular, Boozman wants to eliminate a “loophole” that some states have used to increase food stamp payments to participants in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.