Super committee failure sends Farm Bill back to drawing board

By Kris Bevill | November 22, 2011

The 12-member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction declared defeat just days ahead of its Nov. 23 deadline to deliver a 10-year debt reduction plan to Congress, a move that effectively killed a tentative 2012 Farm Bill proposal put together largely in secret by leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees. The committees had reportedly considered eliminating or reducing at least some programs housed within the Energy Title of the Farm Bill, although details from those crafting the bill were scarce.  Biofuels and renewable energy advocates had actively lobbied committee leaders to retain funding for Farm Bill programs that provide support to their industries. Now that the Farm Bill drafting process will revert back to its usual schedule of hearings and debate among all members of Congress, stakeholders have been delivered another chance to convince committee members that energy programs are worth spending precious federal dollars on.

The Ag Energy Coalition, which was formed by organizations representing a wide variety of renewable power and fuels interests in response to the threat of eliminated Farm Bill funding, intends to continue to its work to ensure the Energy Title remains intact for the next five years, and will even try to convince Congress to increase funding for those programs, which include the Rural Energy for America Program, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, the Biorefinery Assistance Program and the Biobased Markets Program.

“We think that the Energy Title is fundamentally important to the Farm Bill because it’s going to create many thousands of new jobs in rural America,” said Lloyd Ritter, co-director of the Ag Energy Coalition. “This is a huge opportunity for farmers and other rural citizens throughout the country. We think the modest investments into energy will pay off in spades for those communities as we move toward a more secure energy future.”

In a statement released Nov. 22, ag committee leaders offered little detail as to what their initial proposal included, saying only that the bipartisan package would have reduced the deficit by $23 billion. “We are pleased we were able to work in a bipartisan way with committee members and agriculture stakeholders to generate sound ideas to cut spending by tens of billions while maintaining key priorities to grow the country’s agriculture economy,” the committee leaders said in the statement. “We will continue the process of reauthorizing the Farm Bill in the coming months, and will do so with the same bipartisan spirit that has historically defined the work of our committees.”

The deadline to approve a new Farm Bill is Sept. 30, 2012, although some committee members have indicated they would like to reach a conclusion sooner. On behalf of the Ag Energy Coalition, Ritter encouraged all biofuels stakeholders to show their support for Energy Title programs in advance of the next proposal. “People need to recognize that they need to put a little skin in the game, so to speak, for this new round on the Farm Bill so that we can get some good product out of it when it finally gets done,” he said.