House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson released his chairman’s mark on the 2007 Farm bill in anticipation of action by the full committee. The markup is scheduled to begin July 17. The chairman’s mark is the legislative language the committee works from as it considers the bill.

“There are some positive aspects in the proposal for corn growers, but the legislative language is over a thousand pages,” cautioned National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) Vice President for Public Policy Jon Doggett. “There is a lot of detail to examine in order to fully understand what the bill would do for corn growers.”

The House Agriculture Committee is scheduled to mark up two separate bills, one that can meet a Congressional Budget Office budget baseline number and one that would require an additional $17 to $18 billion to operate.

NCGA President Ken McCauley notes that the legislative process can last for months, and proposals can and do change. “Increasingly, members of Congress are leaning toward a farm bill that is more reform-oriented and market based,” McCauley said. “NCGA members have made it clear a counter-cyclical, revenue-based proposal is a better option and a more efficient use of taxpayer money.” The committee has posted its legislative language and fact sheets on the its Web site<http://agriculture.house.gov/inside/2007FarmBill.html>. However, Doggett notes that the legislative process can last for months, and proposals can and do change. Below are several title-by-title highlights of the chairman's mark.

TITLE 1 –– COMMODITIES

Increases target prices for wheat, barley, oats, oilseeds and soybeans, which makes producers eligible for countercyclical payments when prices are higher than under the current farm bill.

Allows producers to purchase supplemental area-based crop insurance in addition to individual yield or revenue policies.

Increases USDA's focus on risk management education for beginning farmers and ranchers.

Requires farmers to build actual production history on newly broken grasslands before they become eligible for crop insurance on that land.

Ends government storage payments for commodities.

TITLE 2 –– CONSERVATION

Extends the conservation reserve program and authorizes 39.2 million acres to be enrolled in the program through 2012.

Allows retired landowners who participate in the Conservation Reserve Program to modify their contracts if they transfer the land to a beginning or socially disadvantaged farmer or rancher, thus allowing the new owner to return some of the land to grazing or crop production.

Provides $1.6 billion to reestablish a wetlands reserve program baseline; extends the program through 2012 and adds 1.5 million acres to the program.

Increases funding for the environmental quality incentives program by $2 billion by 2012.

Creates a regional water enhancement program and funds it at $60 million per year from 2008 through 2012.

Increases funding for the farm and ranchland protection program by $300 million by 2012.

Replaces the Conservation Security Program structure with an annual stewardship enhancement payment to compensate producers for new and ongoing implementation and maintenance of conservation practices and activities.

Extends the wildlife habitat incentives program.

Extends the Grassland Reserve Program and, if costs can be offset, increases enrollment in the program by 5 million acres.

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TITLE 3 –– TRADE

Increases funding for the market access program by $125 million over five years.

Extends the foreign market development program.

Increases the technical assistance for the specialty crops program, which helps U.S. organizations address sanitary, phytosanitary and technical barriers to exports that have been erected by some countries.

Reforms export credit guarantee programs to bring them into compliance with WTO agreements.

Reauthorizes the McGovern-Dole international food for education and child nutrition program and, if costs can be offset, increases funding for the program.

Increases oversight and monitoring of U.S. food aid programs.

TITLE 4 –– NUTRITION

Extends the emergency food assistance program and the commodity supplemental program.

If costs can be offset, the bill would reform benefit rules of the secure supplemental nutrition assistance program by increasing the minimum benefit and raising and indexing the minimum standard deduction.

TITLE 5 –– CREDIT

Increases farm ownership loan and operating loan limits to $300,000 each.

Establishes a loan guarantee program to help farmers carry out conservation programs.

Increases the amount of direct farm ownership loans, guaranteed farm ownership loans, direct farm ownership loans reserved for down payment and direct operating loans for beginning farmers and ranchers.

TITLE 6 –– RURAL DEVELOPMENT

Requires USDA to assess the varying definitions of "rural" that it uses and to make recommendations to Congress to better target funds through rural development programs.

TITLE 7 –– RESEARCH

Creates a National Agriculture Research Program Office to coordinate the programs and activities of USDA's research agencies.

Creates six program offices within the National Program Office to cover the following areas: 1) renewable energy, natural resources and environment; 2) food safety, nutrition and health; 3) plant health and production protection; 4) animal health and production protection; 5) agriculture systems and technology; and 6) agriculture economics and rural communities.

Creates high priority research initiatives for research related to specialty crop production, bioenergy and biobased products.

TITLE 9 –– ENERGY

If costs can be offset, the farm bill would provide up to $2 billion in loan guarantees for biorefineries and biofuels production plants.

If costs can be offset, provides $500 million for a program that would authorize loans, loan guarantees and grants to farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses to purchase and install renewable energy systems and to make energy efficiency improvements.

If costs can be offset, provides $1.5 billion to continue the bioenergy program which provides production incentives for increases in production of ethanol and biodiesel made from agricultural and forestry crops and associated waste materials.

Expands eligibility for combined heat and power production using biomass at biofuels plants and biomass gasification as eligible types of bioenergy that could receive the production incentive.

If costs can be offset, establishes a program to encourage the production of feedstocks for cellulosic ethanol and other energy production and provides for five-year contracts for producers to grow dedicated energy crops.

If costs can be offset, extends the biomass research and development program through 2012 and provides $500 million to fund it.

EN BLOC AMENDMENT

Details about provisions listed above that mention the phrase "if costs can be offset" are included in an en bloc amendment that Peterson also released July 6. That amendment also contains a provision that would establish a permanent emergency agricultural assistance program that would direct USDA to spend "such sums as are necessary" in carrying out the new program.

The full House Agriculture Committee is expected to take up the farm bill this week.