This vote was on an amendment aimed at improving the payout organic farmers receive from the federal crop insurance program.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) offered the amendment during consideration of a bill that authorizes federal programs that assist farmers and low-income Americans. Organic farmers can purchase crop insurance in the United States, but they pay a higher premium than conventional farmers. However, if their crop is damaged, organic farmers receive a payout equal to that given to a conventional farmer. Sen. Merkley’s amendment would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to come up with a higher payout for organic farmers.
Sen. Merkley argued that organic farms deserve a higher crop insurance payout because of their higher premiums and the higher value of their produce. He said USDA had dragged its feet on the issue, and that his amendment would ensure the agency is held accountable.
“Our organic farmers are left in the most untenable position of paying the premiums upfront but not getting the fair organic prices on the back end. This amendment says to get the studies done … so the equation is fair to our farmers,” Sen. Merkley said.
No senators spoke out against Sen. Merkley’s amendment. However, it was opposed by a group of senators who objected to a number of amendments on the grounds that they added spending to the farm bill. Some conservative groups have opposed higher payouts in the past because this would mean more spending under the government-subsidized crop insurance program.
The Senate approved Sen. Merkley’s amendment by a vote of 63-36. Voting “yea” were 53 Democrats and 10 Republicans. Voting “nay” were 36 Republicans. As a result, the Senate moved forward with legislation calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve the payout organic farmers receive from the federal crop insurance program.