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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Table Egg Production and Hen Welfare: Agreement and Legislative Proposals



Joel L. Greene
Analyst in Agricultural Policy

Tadlock Cowan
Analyst in Natural Resources and Rural Development


The United Egg Producers (UEP), the largest group representing egg producers, and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the largest animal protection group, have been adversaries for many years over the use of conventional cages in table egg production. In July 2011, the animal agriculture community was stunned when the UEP and HSUS announced that they had agreed to work together to push for federal legislation to regulate how U.S. table eggs are produced. The agreement between UEP and HSUS called for federal legislation that would set cage sizes, establish labeling requirements, and regulate other production practices. As part of the agreement, HSUS agreed to immediately suspend state-level ballot initiative efforts in Oregon and Washington.

During the 112
th Congress, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012 (H.R. 3798) was introduced in the House in January 2012. In May 2012, a companion bill, S. 3239, was introduced in the Senate. The provisions in the bills were the same, and reflected the agreement between UEP and HSUS to establish uniform, national cage size requirements for table egglaying hens. The bills would have codified national standards for laying-hen housing over an 18- year phase-in period, included labeling requirements to disclose how eggs were produced, and set air quality, molting, and euthanasia standards for laying hens.

The agreement and legislation were a marked shift in direction for both UEP and HSUS. UEP viewed H.R. 3798 as being in the long-term interest and survival of American egg farmers. Egg producers would benefit from national egg standards that halted costly state-by-state battles over caged eggs that result in a variety of laws across the country. For HSUS, which has actively campaigned for cage-free egg production, accepting enriched cages was a compromise, but one that could result in significant federal farm animal welfare legislation. H.R. 3798 and S. 3239 were endorsed by a wide range of agricultural, veterinary, consumer, and animal protection groups.

Farm group opponents criticized H.R. 3798 and S. 3239 for several reasons. First, they were concerned that the bills federally mandated management practices for farm animals, something that had not been done in the past. These groups argued that the bills could set a precedent, paving the way for future legislation on animal welfare for the livestock and poultry industries. Opponents held the view that the cage requirements were not science-based, and undermined long-standing views that animal husbandry practices should be based on the best available science. They also argued that codifying cage standards today ignores innovations that could appear in the future. Additionally, opponents were concerned that the capital cost of transitioning to enriched cages would be high, and could be prohibitive for small producers.

S. 3239 was initially offered as an amendment to the Senate’s proposed 2012 farm bill (S. 3240), but was withdrawn. The Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing on S. 3239 on July 26, 2012. H.R. 3798 was not offered as an amendment during the House Agriculture Committee’s markup of the 2012 farm bill (H.R. 6083). However, an amendment to H.R. 6083 was adopted that would have prohibited states from enforcing their production or manufacturing standards for agricultural products on agricultural products from other states.

The provisions that were in H.R. 3798 and S. 3239 are expected to be reintroduced in the 113
th Congress, and both UEP and HSUS will advocate for passage. Egg legislation could again become part of the omnibus farm bill debate during the year.


Date of Report: January 11, 2013
Number of Pages: 28
Order Number: R42534
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Budget Issues Shaping a 2013 Farm Bill



Jim Monke
Specialist in Agricultural Policy

The desire by many to redesign farm policy and reallocate the remaining farm bill baseline—in a sequestration and deficit reduction environment—is driving much of the farm bill debate this year. Political dynamics concerning sequestration and broader deficit reduction goals leave open difficult questions about how much and when the farm bill baseline may be reduced. In this context, Congress faces difficult choices about how much total support to provide for agriculture, and how to allocate that support among competing constituencies.

Funding to write the next farm bill is based on Congressional Budget Office (CBO) baseline projections of the cost of farm bill programs, and on varying budgetary assumptions about whether programs will continue. The CBO baseline is an estimation (projection) at a particular point in time of what federal spending on mandatory programs likely would be under current law. When new bills are proposed that affect mandatory spending, their impact (or “score”) is measured as a difference from the baseline. This process sets the mandatory budget for considering a new farm bill.

The budget situation is more difficult and uncertain this year than for recent farm bills because of the attention on the federal debt. Uncertainty about government-wide deficit reduction plans is beyond the control of the agriculture committees and may not be resolved for months. Several high-profile congressional and Administration proposals for deficit reduction are specifically targeting agricultural programs with mandatory funding. Across-the-board reductions to most farm bill programs also could occur in 2013 unless Congress avoids an automatic budget sequestration process. Moreover, some 2008 farm bill programs do not have a baseline to continue, and some budgeting rules have changed since the last farm bill

CBO projects that current farm bill programs, if they were to continue from the 2008 farm bill, would cost nearly $1 trillion over the next 10 years. As a starting point for farm bill discussions in the 113
th Congress, bills from 2012 may be used. Compared to the baseline, the Senate-passed farm bill in the 112th Congress, S. 3240, would have reduced spending by $23.1 billion (-2.3%); and the House-reported bill, H.R. 6083, would have reduced it by $35.1 billion (-3.5%).

One of the most noticeable budget differences between the House and Senate bills was the reduction proposed for the nutrition title, with the Senate reducing the nutrition baseline by $4 billion and the House bill reducing it by $16 billion. This emerged as one of the most important political issues for the bill, especially in the House, with some calling for less reduction and others for more. For crop insurance and farm commodities, the combined change for these titles in the House bill (-$14.1 billion) was similar to the combined crop insurance and commodities subtotal in the Senate bill (-$14.4 billion), even though policy approaches differed.

The $23 billion 10-year reduction in the Senate bill was consistent with a joint House-Senate Agriculture Committee proposal to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction in the fall of 2011. The $35 billion 10-year reduction in the House bill was consistent with reconciliation instructions in the House budget resolution for FY2013.



Date of Report: January 18, 2013
Number of Pages: 28
Order Number: R42484
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Agricultural Conservation and the Next Farm Bill



Megan Stubbs
Specialist in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy

Reauthorization of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (2008 farm bill) failed to pass in the 112th Congress, leaving it to the 113th Congress to continue the farm bill debate. The conservation title continues to receive attention and interest from farmers and ranchers as well as environmental and conservation organizations. Contentious issues raised in the 2012 farm bill debate might continue in the 113th Congress, specifically calls to reduce overall funding levels, including conservation, and the addition of crop insurance as a benefit lost under conservation compliance. Other issues from the 2012 farm bill reauthorization debate include consolidating duplicative programs, using public-private partnerships to extend federal funding, and amending existing programs by adding new options to protect and restore resources on agricultural lands.

Budgetary concerns continue to drive the farm bill reauthorization discussion, with additional emphasis placed on reducing mandatory spending. In the past 25 years, conservation has received an increasing level of mandatory funding authorized through farm bills. Nutrition, direct payments, crop insurance, and conservation make up 99% of the 10-year estimated baseline funding for farm bill programs. As a result, conservation is one of the four major sources of mandatory program spending that continues to be closely examined during reauthorization. Several conservation programs, provisions, and funding authorized in the 2008 farm bill expired at the end of FY2012 and were extended to the end of FY2013 by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-240). This extension did not include additional baseline funding for the 37 farm bill provisions that do not have baseline funding beyond FY2012, five of which are within the conservation title.

The Senate-passed (S. 3240) and House-reported (H.R. 6083) farm bills in the 112
th Congress included a number of program consolidations within the conservation title. The existing portfolio of conservation includes more than 20 programs, ranging in size and scope. The large number of programs has been cited as a source of confusion and redundancy, causing both the current and previous Administrations to request some form of consolidation. Other programmatic topics continue to be discussed and debated about conservation: (1) Should existing programs be amended, and if so, how? (2) How should funding be divided between programs for land retirement and for working lands? (3) Should conservation programs be subject to the same program limitations as other commodity support programs? (4) How will the debate be affected by new data that highlight the connection between conservation practices and positive environmental results? Various responses to these questions have been offered in extensive testimony at hearings, and are reflected in the policy options that Congress is considering.

The federal response to environmental concerns related to agriculture is generally viewed as both supportive and restrictive. One of the primary means of support is provided through the voluntary conservation programs established in the farm bill. These conservation programs are increasingly called upon to support best management practices to meet federal environmental requirements; however, these programs are being considered for funding reductions. Other conservation efforts, such as conservation compliance on highly erodible lands and wetlands compliance, might be viewed as restrictive. Potential changes in commodity programs could reduce the effectiveness of compliance programs. This has caused some to advocate for reestablishing compliance requirements to other farm program benefits, such as crop insurance.



Date of Report: February 12, 2013
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: R42093
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Monday, February 25, 2013

Agricultural Credit: Institutions and Issues



Jim Monke
Specialist in Agricultural Policy

The federal government provides credit assistance to farmers to assure adequate and reliable lending in rural areas, particularly when farmers cannot obtain loans elsewhere. Federal farm loan programs also target credit to beginning farmers and socially-disadvantaged groups.

The primary federal lender to farmers is the Farm Service Agency (FSA) in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). It issues direct loans to farmers who cannot qualify for regular credit, and guarantees repayment of loans made by other lenders. FSA thus is called a lender of last resort. Of about $250 billion in total farm debt, FSA provides about 2% through direct loans, and guarantees about another 4%-5% of loans.

Another federally related lender is the Farm Credit System (FCS), a cooperatively owned but federally chartered lender with a statutory mandate to serve agriculture-related borrowers. FCS makes loans to creditworthy farmers, and is not a lender of last resort. FCS accounts for nearly 43% of farm debt. Commercial banks are the other primary agricultural lender, holding slightly more than FCS with over 43% of total farm debt.

Generally speaking, the farm sector’s balance sheet has remained strong in recent years. While delinquency rates on farm loans increased from 2008 into 2010, farmers and agricultural lenders did not face credit problems as severe as those of other economic sectors. Since 2010, loan repayment rates have improved. But appropriations for the FSA loan program—and the ability of FSA to meet demand for its loans and guarantees—have been constrained during an era of tight federal budgets.

Statutory authority for FSA and FCS is permanent, but periodic farm bills often make adjustments to eligibility criteria and the scope of operations. In the 112
th Congress, both the Senate-passed farm bill (S. 3240) and the House-reported farm bill (H.R. 6083) would have made relatively small policy changes to USDA’s credit programs in Title V. Term limits on the number of years that borrowers may remain eligible for loans may be an issue, as well as expanding existing loan programs to serve non-traditional farm producers, such as producers for local and regional food systems. In 2013, USDA created a microloan program to expedite small operating loans to nontraditional agricultural producers. Finally, efforts to expand Farm Credit System activities into new mission areas using regulatory powers may continue.


Date of Report: February 7, 2013
Number of Pages: 16
Order Number: RS21977
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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Agricultural Conservation: A Guide to Programs



Megan Stubbs
Specialist in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Farm Service Agency (FSA) in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) currently administer over 20 programs and subprograms that are directly or indirectly available to assist producers and landowners who wish to practice conservation on agricultural lands. The number, scope, and overall funding of these programs has grown in recent years. This growth can cause some confusion over which problems and conditions each program addresses, and specific program characteristics and performance. The programs are as follows:


  • Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) Program 
  • Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program 
  • Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI) 
  • Conservation Operations (CO); Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) 
  • Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) 
  • CRP—Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) 
  • CRP—Farmable Wetlands Program 
  • Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) 
  • Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) 
  • Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program 
  • Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) 
  • EQIP—Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) 
  • EQIP—Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) 
  • Farmland Protection Program (FPP) 
  • Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) 
  • Healthy Forest Reserve Program (HFRP) 
  • Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Program 
  • Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program 
  • Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations 
  • Watershed Rehabilitation Program 
  • Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) 
  • Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) 

This tabular presentation provides basic information introducing each of the programs. In each case, a brief program description is followed by information on major amendments in the 2008 farm bill (P.L. 110-246); national scope and availability; states with the greatest participation; the backlog of applications or other measures of continuing interest; program funding authority; FY2012 funding; FY2013 Administration budget request; FY2013 funding where available; statutory authority; the authorization expiration date; and a link to the program’s website.


Date of Report: February 5, 2013
Number of Pages: 30
Order Number: R40763
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