Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives gave final approval by unanimous vote for the House-Senate agreement reached Wednesday afternoon on the conference report for the "Agricultural Risk Protection Act" (H.R. 2559), allowing producers the maximum insurance coverage on economic risks faced for weather and market losses in both crops and livestock. The Senate approved the conference report later in the day on Thursday, with a vote of 91 to 4.
Premium assistance for producers will be improved at all levels of coverage:
Coverage Level 50/100 55/100 60/100 65/100 70/100 75/100 80/100 85/100
Current Law 55% 46% 38% 42% 32% 24% 17% 13%
New Coverage 67% 64% 64% 59% 59% 55% 48% 38%
In addition, the conference report includes instructions about how $7.1 billion in previously budgeted producer assistance will be distributed to producers suffering from another year of unprecedented low market values for their crops. The measure directs $5.466 billion in market loss payments to producers in September, in amounts equal to their 1999 AMTA "transition payment" checks -- a predictable payment method for producers, and so far the only disaster help that USDA has demonstrated it can deliver in a timely manner. $1.6 billion in additional assistance comes within the Fiscal Year 2001 budget.
"The Agricultural Risk Protection Act provides new insurance coverage based on the farmer's productive capability with comprehensive protection to manage risk from low market values and weather losses for crops as well as livestock," said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest (R-TX). "Passage of this major crop insurance reform bill reduces the need for producer dependence on costly disaster assistance packages."
The $1.6 billion in Fiscal Year 2001 budgeted items include:
Oilseed payments totaling $600 million
Economic assistance totaling $387 million for peanut producers and compensation for dwindling quotas to tobacco farmers. Fruit and vegetable producer market-oriented assistance totaling $302 million
The conference also includes "The Plant Protection Act" (H.R. 1504), designed to improve the protection of U.S. agriculture and the environment from harmful pests and noxious weeds. The legislation consolidates 11 plant quarantine laws that date back to 1913 and which comprise a patchwork of sometimes confusing and inadequate authorities.
In addition, the conference report contains "The Biomass Research and Development Act of 2000" (S. 935) passed by the Senate and similar to legislation by Agriculture Research Subcommittee Chairman Thomas Ewing (R-IL), which will allow the co-production of food and chemicals from a single plant and to find ways to use an entire plant more efficiently in the production of bio-based products.