5:11 PM EDT

Bob Etheridge, D-NC 2nd

Mr. ETHERIDGE. Madam Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the bill (H.R. 6849) to amend the commodity provisions of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 to permit producers to aggregate base acres and reconstitute farms to avoid the prohibition on receiving direct payments, counter-cyclical payments, or average crop revenue election payments when the sum of the base acres of a farm is 10 acres or less, and for other purposes, as amended.

The Clerk read the title of the bill.

The text of the bill is as follows:

H.R. 6849

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. TREATMENT OF FARMS WITH LIMITED BASE ACRES.

(a) Suspension of Prohibition.--

(1) IN GENERAL.--Section 1101(d) of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (7 U.S.C. 8711(d)) is amended by adding at the end the following:

``(4) SUSPENSION OF PROHIBITION.--Paragraphs (1) through (3) shall not apply during the 2008 and 2009 crop years.''.

(2) PEANUTS.--Section 1302(d) of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (7 U.S.C. 8752(d)) is amended by adding at the end the following:

``(4) SUSPENSION OF PROHIBITION.--Paragraphs (1) through (3) shall not apply during the 2008 and 2009 crop years.''.

(b) Extension of 2008 Signup for Direct Payments and Counter-Cyclical Payments.--

(1) IN GENERAL.--Section 1106 of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (7 U.S.C. 8716) is amended by adding at the end the following:

``(f) Extension of 2008 Signup.--

``(1) IN GENERAL.--Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary shall extend the 2008 crop year deadline for the signup for benefits under this subtitle by producers on a farm with base acres of 10 acres or less until the later of--

``(A) November 14, 2008; or

``(B) the end of the 45-day period beginning on the date of the enactment of this subsection.

``(2) PENALTIES.--The Secretary shall ensure that no penalty with respect to benefits under this subtitle is assessed against producers on a farm described in paragraph (1) for failure to submit reports under this section or timely comply with other program requirements as a result of compliance with the extended signup deadline under that paragraph.''.

(2) PEANUTS.--Section 1305 of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (7 U.S.C. 8755) is amended by adding at the end the following:

``(f) Extension of 2008 Signup.--

``(1) IN GENERAL.--Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary shall extend the 2008 crop year deadline for the signup for benefits under this subtitle by producers on a farm with base acres of 10 acres or less until the later of--

``(A) November 14, 2008; or

``(B) the end of the 45-day period beginning on the date of the enactment of this subsection.

``(2) PENALTIES.--The Secretary shall ensure that no penalty with respect to benefits under this subtitle is assessed against producers on a farm described in paragraph (1) for failure to submit reports under this section or timely comply with other program requirements as a result of compliance with the extended signup deadline under that paragraph.''.

(c) Offsetting Reduction.--Section 515(k)(1) of the Federal Crop Insurance Act (7 U.S.C. 1515(k)(1)) is amended by striking ``not more than $15,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2008 through 2011'' and inserting ``not more than $15,000,000 for fiscal year 2008, not more than $9,000,000 for fiscal year 2009, and not more than $8,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2010 and 2011''.

5:11 PM EDT

Bob Etheridge, D-NC 2nd

Mr. ETHERIDGE. Madam Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members may have 5 legislative days in which to revise and extend their remarks on this bill.

5:11 PM EDT

Bob Etheridge, D-NC 2nd

Mr. ETHERIDGE. Madam Speaker, I rise in strong support of H.R. 6849.

Let me also thank Chairman Peterson, chairman of the full committee, and Ranking Member Goodlatte for their hard work and effort in making [Page: H9320]

sure that we got a quick markup on this bill in committee and got it to the floor.

I introduced this legislation with my good friend and colleague, Representative JERRY MORAN, to help thousands of American farmers who would have been adversely affected by really the willful misinterpretation in the 2008 farm bill by the Department of Agriculture.

Madam Speaker, the Department has interpreted the language in the 2008 farm bill in a manner that would prevent thousands of small farmers from receiving the program payments they are owed, putting them in jeopardy, in some cases, of financial hardship and some might even have to go out of business.

This is based on its misinterpretation of a provision in title I of the farm bill that was meant to prevent payments to those farms that are 10 acres or less. Despite clear report language outlining how USDA is to implement this provision, the Secretary has chosen not to read it as written.

I personally, along with a number of my colleagues, opposed the 10-acre provision in the farm bill when it was debated in the committee and again during conference, because we should not punish small farmers in America. But I understand the provision's intent: to prevent people who are not active farmers from gaming the system and getting government payments on land they didn't actively farm. I think that's appropriate.

However, I cannot abide by the interpretation that puts thousands of farmers who rent or lease small tracts of land for their farming operations and place them at risk of not receiving payments and could, in some cases, put them in jeopardy of being out of business, an interpretation that puts existing contracts between landowners and farmers at risk of being voided.

Let me just share with you what this means. In the State of Iowa, roughly 12,000 farms are affected; in Illinois, approximately 16,000 farms would be affected; in Ohio, 16,000 farms; in Kentucky, 20,000 farms; and in my home State of North Carolina, almost 16,000 farms would be adversely impacted if Congress let's the department rule stand. Nationwide, this number could be as high as 460,000 farms.

H.R. 6849 fixes this problem. It suspends the provisions in title I for the 2008-2009 crop years that would have required producers to have a minimum of a 10-acre base to receive program benefits. This provision provides time to consider a more permanent fix in the future.

Madam Speaker, I urge my colleagues to support this important legislation.

I reserve the balance of my time.

5:15 PM EDT

Bob Goodlatte, R-VA 6th

Mr. GOODLATTE. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I support H.R. 6849 which voids the payment prohibition to farmers who have fewer than 10 acres of working farmland for the 2008 and 2009 crop years.

[Time: 17:15]

This measure protects farmers who would be denied benefits because it addresses a specific provision in the farm bill that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has misinterpreted. The intent of that original provision was to stop gardeners in New York City from getting program payments. It was never intended to prevent bonafide farmers from participating in commodity programs.

The farm bill provision and the accompanying report encourage the Secretary of Agriculture to allow farmers to aggregate base acres from multiple working farms to qualify for those program benefits.

However, the USDA has decided to interpret the language of that provision differently and prohibit aggregation. It is unfortunate that we are forced to pass further legislation to make sure this intent cannot be misconstrued. However, if we do not take action, the result will be damaging to thousands of farmers who depend on program payments.

I believe it is necessary that we pass this bill in order to protect those thousands of farmers who are being adversely affected by the USDA's interpretation of a specific provision in the farm bill. This is a growing concern throughout the country. Specifically, in my State of Virginia, the Virginia Farm Bureau contacted me directly because it was worried about the negative impact this interpretation would have on the livelihood of its producers.

I support this bill, and I urge my colleagues to support it as well.

I reserve the balance of my time.

5:17 PM EDT

Leonard L. Boswell, D-IA 3rd

Mr. BOSWELL. Madam Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity. I want to thank my good friend and colleague from North Carolina (Mr. Etheridge) and Mr. Goodlatte and the rest of you for us coming together and correcting this error that's taken place, or this misrepresentation.

As the cosponsor of H.R. 6849, I'm extremely pleased the full House has taken action today so that Iowa and the Nation's small working farmers across the Nation will have an opportunity for an adequate safety net. The legislation suspends a provision in the new farm bill which prohibits producers farming 10 acres or less to receive USDA payments.

Now hear this. When the farm bill was drafted and during the conference process, it was the intent of Congress to allow farmers to aggregate their base acres, to bring them together. This is evident by the Joint Explanatory Statement of the managers that accompanied the 2008 farm bill which clearly states, ``The managers intend for the department to allow for aggregation of farms for purposes of determining the suspension of payments on farms with 10 base acres or less.''

This needs to be corrected. I ask that everybody that would participate to be sure we make this clear and make sure small farmers will be taken care of. The USDA has misrepresented Congress' intent putting thousands of small producers at risk.

I would like to urge my colleagues to support this resolution.

5:18 PM EDT

Bob Goodlatte, R-VA 6th

Mr. GOODLATTE. Madam Speaker, at this time it is my pleasure to yield to the gentleman from Kansas (Mr. Moran), the ranking member of the Commodity Subcommittee, such time as he may consume.

5:19 PM EDT

Jerry Moran, R-KS 1st

Mr. MORAN of Kansas. I thank the gentleman for yielding, and I rise in support of H.R. 6849.

I certainly support the fundamental purpose of this bill. I do have some concerns about the offset, the pay-for, that is necessary. I am also concerned that the bill only provides temporary relief.

As has been indicated, decisions were made in the farm bill to eliminate 10 acres from being considered for program payments under the new farm bill, and the attempt was made to make it clear that farmers could aggregate their properties. That has not been the case as the farm bill has been implemented by the Department of Agriculture, and we now are here to correct that mistake.

Mr. Etheridge and I, the gentleman from North Carolina, introduced legislation to do that in September, and this is the base behind the bill that we have before us today, although our plan was to allow farmers to combine base acres through two processes: either reconstitution or aggregation.

And when it became a concern that that bill would not pass in sufficient time and the offset was not there, the bill we have before us became the compromise; and I'm pleased knowing that this legislation must pass to be supportive of this compromise bill. It does mean that this Congress, the House Agriculture Committee, will need to come back in future years to make certain that we get this corrected.

Also, by speaking today, I want to raise the concern that I have with the offset that we're using. For a long time I have worried that my farmers, when they go to see their USDA officers, particularly FSA, at their county office, they have had tremendous delays in access to computers. And the offset for this bill is computer/IT funding in the Risk Management Agency, RMA. In my opinion, we need to find a more appropriate offset because we authorized only $60 million in the farm bill, $15 million

in each of the 4 fiscal years for the IT system at the Risk Management Agency, and those systems were only updated--the last time was 15 years ago. [Page: H9321]

This would remove nearly $20 million from the original $60 million authorized in the farm bill, removing about a third of the money allocated for computer upgrades.

And so we have an opportunity, I hope, when the Senate passes similar legislation to sit down and see if we can't agree upon a different way of paying for this needed correction.

Without sufficient funding, the Risk Management Agency will be forced to limit future product approvals, enhancements, and expansions, and I believe that will adversely affect farmers and ranchers. RMA must be able to interface with 17 insurance companies that deliver Federal crop insurance covering more than 1.1 million policies and $89 billion in liability.

Upgrades are not only needed to allow services to continue but are also necessary to implement current technology to improve program integrity and data security and the protection of personally identifiable information.

Again, I raise the concern and hope that as this bill works its way through the process, that we can find a more satisfactory offset than the information technology, the RMA IT account, at the Department of Agriculture.

I am here to support this legislation. I appreciate the fix that it provides. We need to figure out a permanent solution, and we need to figure out a different way of paying for it. I look forward to continuing to working in the process to see that those two things occur.

5:23 PM EDT

Bob Etheridge, D-NC 2nd

Mr. ETHERIDGE. Madam Speaker, I now yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Holden) who has also been instrumental in this piece of legislation and works hard on the Ag Committee.

5:23 PM EDT

Tim Holden, D-PA 17th

Mr. HOLDEN. I thank the gentleman for yielding, and I thank the gentleman for his leadership as well as the gentleman from Kansas (Mr. Moran) and the ranking member, Mr. Goodlatte, and Chairman Peterson.

This is a pretty timely debate, Madam Speaker. I just came from a meeting with Deputy Secretary Conner about this very issue. The deputy secretary said that he would like to be helpful and Secretary Schaeffer would like to be helpful. They're just having difficulty struggling with the legal interpretation of what ``congressional intent'' was.

So it's very important that we pass this legislation today by as strong a vote as possible. The deputy secretary promised to go back and look and see if there's a way they can interpret it for what I told him that was my understanding of what congressional intent was.

I remember that evening in conference when the gentleman from North Carolina offered an amendment and a discussion came about. It was pretty clear to me, and I think everyone else in the room, that it was the intent of the conference to have this be in the aggregate. We're still having difficulty working with the department, as I mentioned. They just promised me 10 minutes ago to continue to work on it.

But I think one way that we can send a clear message is to pass this bill tonight by as overwhelming a vote as we possibly can and send it over to the Senate.

5:24 PM EDT

Bob Etheridge, D-NC 2nd

Mr. ETHERIDGE. Madam Speaker, we have no further speakers.

Let me thank the gentleman from Virginia for his help, Ranking Member Goodlatte, Chairman Peterson, and all the members of the committee, and also my good friend, Congressman Moran from Kansas, who really was instrumental in working on this piece of legislation.

Let me just say to my colleagues, every State in America is affected by this piece of legislation from an agricultural standpoint. With that, Madam Speaker, I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.