With the major stumbling block of funding finally out of the way after Friday's agreement on financing the farm bill, staff members have been working on policy details of the bill.
"The tentative agreement maintains strong farm income security and a permanent disaster program," says Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. "It will solidify the future of the Conservation Security Program, now the Conservation Stewardship Program, returning it to the program it was intended to be when first enacted in the 2002 farm bill."
In addition to conservation, funding was increased for renewable energy, in particular cellulosic biofuels. However; in order to get over the funding hurdle, some changes were made to ethanol tax credits. The federal tax break on ethanol was reduced six cents a gallon, from 51 to 45 cents, and tax credits for biodiesel were stripped from the bill. The tariff on imported ethanol was extended through 2010.
The permanent agricultural disaster aid program pushed for by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., remains in the bill, however at $3.8 billion rather than the original $4 billion that was proposed. Baucus says that the important thing is that the program is there.
Among the details staff are working on are tightening the eligibility limits for receiving farm subsidies and an optional new subsidy program that would provide a safety net for farmers against drops in yield or market prices. The entire conference committee will meet Monday at 6 p.m. EDT. A vote on the Farm Bill by the conference committee is expected this week.