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Grassley seeks funds for energy

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said Tuesday that he and possibly two other Republicans on the Senate Agriculture Committee will introduce an amendment to provide $800 million in funding over 10 years for an energy title of the new farm bill when the Senate Agriculture Committee meets to consider the bill tomorrow.

The farm bill draft released by Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) last Friday has an energy title, but most of it does not have mandatory funding. That means that energy programs are authorized but funding in the current fiscal environment would be doubtful.

Some groups voiced concern about that last Friday.

“We thank the Committee for recognizing the importance of energy title programs in their Farm Bill proposal, but without meaningful funding for these programs, progress in renewable energy projects that are creating good, permanent jobs in rural America would come to a halt,” said Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial & Environmental Section  “We look forward to working with the Committee to ensure mandatory funding is made available for valuable energy programs.”

BIO represents more than 1,100 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, and other entities in the U.S. and more than 30 other countries.

The American Soybean Association is also pushing for expanding funds in the energy title for the biobased markets program, which did get $2 million per year in the Senate Ag Committee farm bill draft. ASA would like it increased to $3 million per year. The money helps USDA administer a program to encourage the federal government to buy more bio-based products if they are available and reasonably priced.

Grassley said that Senators Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) are likely co-sponsors of his amendment. It would be financed by taking funds from a program for cotton gins, he said.

Grassley also said he’s pleased that the Senate bill has a payment limit on some commodity programs, set at $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for couples. He’s still working to tighten up rules on how USDA defines those actively engaged in farming and eligible for payments.

He said that he may also offer an amendment to ban packer ownership of livestock.

He doesn’t believe members of either party will try to keep the committee’s bill from coming up for a vote on the Senate floor.

“I don’t believe you’ll find senatorial politics played with this bill,” he said.

And most committee members, possibly with the exception of some from southern states, will vote for the bill, he said.

“I think it will be highly bipartisan,” he said.

The Senate bill expands crop insurance, whose subsidies make it one of the most costly forms of support for farmers (but far behind the cost of nutrition programs).

When asked if he expected any amendments on the Senate floor to the committee’s bill that might try to trim crop insurance spending, Grassley said, “I would say you’re going to find some amendments to save some money somewhere. I wouldn’t say it would be crop insurance.”

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