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On October 30, 2013, the Conference Committee selected to merge the House and Senate versions of the next five-year Farm Bill met to begin formal negotiations. This Farm Bill Conference Committee is comprised of 41 bi-partisan Members of the U.S. House and Senate.


Though Farm Bill Conference Committee negotiations are expected to be difficult, pressure is on Members of Congress to pass a final version of the next five-year bill by the end of this year. If it fails to do so, farm policy will be governed by an outdated supply-side permanent law from 1949. In that situation, milk prices would be expected to increase sharply, among other things. In addition, the old law includes nothing to cover or help promote renewable energy, including biofuels and renewable chemicals.


Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate passed its version of the next five-year Farm Bill, S. 954, including funding for farm, nutrition, and energy programs. Importantly, the Senate bill continues and provides mandatory funding for existing Farm Bill energy programs and extends eligibility to renewable chemicals. It includes $4 billion in cuts to nutrition programs. After failing to pass a combined bill, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a "farm-only" bill this summer and then a separate "nutrition-only" bill cutting $40 billion in food stamps. The House farm-only Farm Bill contains an energy title without mandatory funding that will instead be subject to annual appropriations, and it does not extend the energy programs to renewable chemicals.


The biofuels and renewable chemicals industries continue efforts to gain support for an energy title that would support their development and include mandatory funding in the final version of the next Farm Bill.
 


 

On October 21, 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a press release announcing the availability of $181 million in funding under the Biorefinery Assistance Program (BAP) to support the development of commercial-scale biorefineries or the retrofitting of existing biorefineries to produce advanced biofuels from non-food sources. The BAP was created under the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (the 2008 Farm Bill) and is administered by USDA Rural Development. It provides loan guarantees to viable commercial-scale facilities to develop new and emerging technologies for advanced biofuels. To date, the program has provided approximately $684 million to support biofuels projects in eight states. USDA's press release is available online.


Applications for funding are due to USDA by January 30, 2014. Additional information on how to apply may be found online.


This announcement comes at a time when the 2008 Farm Bill was allowed to expire on September 30, and a House and Senate conference committee recently initiated work to develop a final Farm Bill that may be voted on by Congress and signed into law by President Obama. Upon the end of the government shutdown last week, President Obama publicly stressed the importance of passing a new Farm Bill this year.
 


 

On October 21, 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a press release announcing the availability of $181 million in funding under the Biorefinery Assistance Program (BAP) to support the development of commercial-scale biorefineries or the retrofitting of existing biorefineries to produce advanced biofuels from non-food sources. The BAP was created under the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (the 2008 Farm Bill) and is administered by USDA Rural Development. It provides loan guarantees to viable commercial-scale facilities to develop new and emerging technologies for advanced biofuels. To date, the program has provided approximately $684 million to support biofuels projects in eight states. USDA's press release is available online.


Applications for funding are due to USDA by January 30, 2014. Additional information on how to apply may be found online.


This announcement comes at a time when the 2008 Farm Bill was allowed to expire on September 30, and a House and Senate conference committee recently initiated work to develop a final Farm Bill that may be voted on by Congress and signed into law by President Obama. Upon the end of the government shutdown last week, President Obama publicly stressed the importance of passing a new Farm Bill this year.
 


 

Leaders of the House of Representatives have named 29 Representatives to the conference committee that will work to consolidate the House and Senate versions of the next five-year Farm Bill into a final piece of legislation that will be passed by both Houses of Congress and signed into law by President Obama.


While House and Senate leaders assert their commitment to settling on and passing a final version of the next Farm Bill, getting to agreement will likely be difficult. One of the most contentious disagreements remains over how much to cut from nutrition programs, which have traditionally been funded by the Farm Bill.


As we have reported, earlier this year, the U.S. Senate passed its version of the next five-year Farm Bill, including funding for farm, nutrition, and energy programs. Importantly, the Senate bill continues and provides mandatory funding for existing Farm Bill energy programs and extends eligibility to renewable chemicals. It includes $4 billion in cuts to nutrition programs. After failing to pass a combined bill, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a "farm-only" bill this summer and a "nutrition-only" bill cutting $40 billion in food stamps in recent weeks. The House farm-only Farm Bill contains an energy title without mandatory funding that will instead be subject to annual appropriations, and it does not extend the energy programs to renewable chemicals.


The nine month extension of the 2008 Farm Bill expired on September 30.
 

Tags: Farm Bill

 

Not only did the U.S. government shut down at midnight on Monday, but so did the nine month extension of the 2008 Farm Bill. With no new five-year Farm Bill, the future is uncertain for rural energy programs supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), including the Biorefinery Assistance Program that promotes the development of biorefineries in the U.S.


As we have reported earlier this year, the U.S. Senate passed its version of the next five-year Farm Bill, including funding for farm, nutrition, and energy programs. Importantly, the Senate bill continues and provides mandatory funding for existing Farm Bill energy programs and extends eligibility to renewable chemicals. After failing to pass a combined bill, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a "farm-only" bill this summer and a nutrition-only bill cutting $40 billion in food stamps just last week. The House farm-only Farm Bill contains an energy title without mandatory funding that will instead be subject to annual appropriations, and it does not extend the energy programs to renewable chemicals.


There has been hope that though the differences are deep, the House and Senate will be able to pass a five-year Farm Bill by the end of the year when mandatory funds for commodity subsidies and food stamps expire. Whether this is true now largely depends on how quickly Congress re-opens the government and raises the debt ceiling to ensure the ability of the U.S. to meet its financial obligations.
 


 

On September 19, 2013, in a partisan vote, the U.S. House of Representatives passed by a vote of 217-210 its version of the nutrition portion of the next Farm Bill. All Democrats and 15 Republicans in the House of Representatives voted against the bill, which would cut $40 billion from the national food stamp program over the next decade and will almost surely delay final passage of the next five-year Farm Bill. The current Farm Bill expires on September 30.


Historically, the Farm Bill has combined funding for farm and nutrition programs. This summer, by a bi-partisan vote, the Senate passed S. 954, its version of the next five-year Farm Bill that included funding for farm, rural energy, and nutrition programs. It continues funding for Farm Bill energy programs that help encourage biofuels production, and expands coverage to include renewable chemicals. S. 954 would cut only $4 billion from the food stamp program over the next decade.


The House split the farm and nutrition portions of the Farm Bill because in June of this year, it failed to pass a combined bill that would have cut $20 billion from food stamps. At the time, generally, Democrats felt the food stamp cuts were too steep, while Republicans thought they did not go far enough. Over the summer, House leadership opted to split the bill into farm and nutrition only parts, and to get the votes to pass the nutrition portion by answering the Republican call for steeper cuts.


Now that the House has passed both the farm and nutrition portions of the next Farm Bill, it is expected that House leadership will appoint conferees to meet with the already named Senate conferees in an effort to prepare a bill in final that may be passed by both the House and Senate and signed into law by the President. No one expects this process will be complete by September 30, but they are hopeful it could happen by the end of the year when farm support will revert back to a 1949 agriculture law. If that happens, there will not be any continuing support for biofuels and renewable chemicals.
 

Tags: Farm Bill

 

USDA is continuing its work to promote the U.S. biofuels industry, which USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack believes helps bolster the U.S. agriculture sector and rural economy. On September 12, 2013, USDA announced that it will provide a total of $15.5 million to 188 advanced biofuel producers under USDA's Advanced Biofuel Payment Program, which was created under the 2008 Farm Bill (P.L. 110-234, the "Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008"). It is reported that through that program to date, USDA has provided $211 million to 290 biofuel producers. This federal support is an important component to efforts of producers in the still nascent advanced biofuels industry to get up and running. USDA's press release on this announcement is available online.


 

Congress returned from its August recess this week, and, as expected, the Republican leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives is looking toward passing legislation on the remaining nutrition portion of the Farm Bill, including $40 billion in cuts to food stamp programs over the next ten years. The bill could come up for a vote next week.


House Republican leaders, including House Committee on Agriculture Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK), have stated they do not wish to go ahead with a conference committee with the Senate to complete the next five-year Farm Bill until they pass the nutrition portion. In June, the House passed a "farm-only" Farm Bill, H.R. 2642, which left out funding for food stamps and other nutrition programs. A more comprehensive version of the Farm Bill containing $20 billion in cuts to nutrition programs was defeated in a previous vote mainly because several Democrats felt the cuts were too large, while several Republicans thought they did not go far enough.


Passage of a nutrition portion of the Farm Bill containing $40 billion in cuts may attract enough House Republicans to lead to a conference committee with the Senate to hammer out a final version of the next five-year Farm Bill, but it will not make those negotiations any faster or easier. In May, the Senate passed its version of the next Farm Bill, S. 954, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013, which funds both farm programs and food stamps. S. 954 contains a strong energy title with nearly $900 million in mandatory funding and expanded eligibility for renewable chemicals. Senate Committee on Agriculture Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), who is leading the Farm Bill effort in the Senate, has said that $40 billion in cuts is a "non-starter." In fact, she and other Democratic leaders in the Senate opposed the original $20 billion in cuts the House attempted to pass earlier this year. This disagreement will likely extend the Farm Bill conference committee negotiations beyond September 30, when the current version of the Farm Bill expires.
 


 
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