A bipartisan Senate majority approved the Senate’s version of the Farm Bill this week. It is now up to the House to do its part.

On June 10, the Senate passed the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 (S. 954) by a vote of 66 – 27 . Although more than 200 amendments were still pending, the Senate chose instead to proceed directly to the bill without further amendment.

The bill would provide $900 million in mandatory funding over five years for various bioenergy and other renewable energy programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (such as the Rural Energy for America Program , the Biorefinery Assistance Program , and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program ). The bill would extend eligibility for the USDA’s Bio-Based Markets Program to a wider range of renewable forest products, and it would expand the Biorefinery Assistance Program to support commercial scale production of bio-based chemicals and products, as well as biofuels.

Under the conservation title, the bill would consolidate and reduce outlays for conservation programs (such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Conservation Stewardship Program , and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program ) by about $3.5 billion over ten years. It would reduce the cap on total acreage enrolled in CRP to 25 million from the current 32 million. The bill also requires that farmers who receive federal crop insurance subsidies comply with conservation plans, and it reduces existing federal incentives that indirectly encourage some producers to plow up new land (such as native grasslands) for crop production.

The debate now moves to the House where Republican leaders reportedly are still trying to find enough votes on their side to pass the House version, the " Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 " (H.R. 1947). The bill may come to the floor for debate and a vote as early as next week.

A number of strengthening amendments are expected to be offered on conservation and energy programs, including:

  • to provide mandatory funding for energy title programs similar to the Senate bill, as detailed in the " Rural Energy Investment Act of 2013 " (H.R. 2290), as introduced by Reps. Nancy Kaptur (D-OH) and Bruce Braley (D-IA);
  • to require farmers who receive federal subsidies for crop insurance to comply with conservation plans, as detailed in the " Crop Insurance Accountability Act of 2013 " (H.R. 2260), as introduced by Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Mike Thompson (D-CA); and
  • to strengthen protection of native grasslands as detailed in the " Protect Our Prairies Act " (H.R. 686), as introduced by Reps. Kristi Noem (R-SD), Tim Walz (D-MN), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Collin Peterson (D-MN), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Rob Wittman (R-VA), Bennie Thompson (D-MS), and Bob Latta (R-OH).

In May, six former chiefs of the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service sent a letter to Congress calling for the conservation compliance requirement for federally subsidized crop insurance.

EESI has encouraged strong funding for conservation and energy programs, as well as provisions to strengthen conservation compliance and protect grasslands. In a letter to the House Agriculture Committee , EESI Executive Director Carol Werner observed that strong conservation programs are essential for " improving the sustainability of the nation’s agricultural production, as well as biofuel production. Effective conservation programs must develop and expand in concert with agricultural and biofuel production to restore and sustain soil conservation, water quality, biological diversity, wildlife habitat, and a stable climate. "

In another letter , she observed that a strong energy title, with mandatory funding, " is key to creating strong, sustainable bio-based products and energy industries using America’s cutting edge technologies and working farms and forests. It can be a win-win for creating jobs and economic development, improving both local and national energy security, as well as reducing environmental pollution and harmful climate change. "