Finally, a farm bill!
By Derrick Cain
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.
Many agriculture groups and lawmakers from both parties echoed sighs of relief as the Senate approval a five-year farm bill (H.R. 2642) on a 68-32 vote Tuesday. The passage sends the sweeping legislation to President Obama for his expected signature on Friday.
The nearly $1 trillion Agriculture Act of 2014 will scrap direct payments in favor of enhanced crop insurance, revise commodity supports, create a new dairy program, and make several other changes to agricultural policy, including an approximate $8 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) through a reduction in automatic eligibility. With almost 950 pages of text, the bill is incredibly complex and will require most producers to do a lot of homework before enrolling in the new Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) or Price Loss Coverage (PLC), plus the supplemental coverage option for crop insurance, all of which an ambitious team at USDA hopes to roll out later this summer.
Forty-four Democrats were joined by 22 Republicans and two Independents to support the legislation, while 23 Republicans and, notably, nine Democrats voted against the bill. The roll call vote can be viewed here.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said the measure is “really 12 difference pieces of legislation from farm to research to fruits and vegetables to energy, across the board, all put together in something we call the farm bill.”
“This, most importantly, is a major bipartisan jobs bill that makes sure that 16 million people who work in agriculture from Michigan to Mississippi to Oklahoma and everywhere in between have the support they need,” Stabenow said.
The House approved the bill last Wednesday with a 251-166 vote. Obama is expected to travel to Stabenow's home state for remarks on the farm bill at Michigan State University, and then sign the bill into law.
Stabenow said the bill seeks to significantly increase support for fruits and vegetables and local food systems. It also would authorize large investments in land and water conservation.
Obviously happy with Senate passage, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said, “We worked together to give certainty and sound policy to our agricultural producers, deliver taxpayers billions of dollars in savings, and to provide consumers the affordable food supply they have grown accustomed to.”
Including sequestration reductions, supporters expect the legislation to lead to a $23 billion deficit reduction. Opponents say the cuts do not go far enough.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, voted against the bill, saying he was disappointed that his provisions to “place a hard cap on farm payments and better define who can receive those payments were stripped down to such a great extent that they likely won't have much effect.” Grassley said 10 percent of the wealthiest farmers receive 70 percent of the benefit from the farm program, putting small- and medium-sized farms and young and beginning farmers at a disadvantage.
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said the legislation represents the most significant agricultural policy reform in decades and will reduce the federal budget deficit by streamlining agricultural programs.
“Given our nation's significant debt and deficit, one of my top priorities is to see how we in government can get better results for less money in everything we do, and this farm bill is no exception,” Carper said.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the bill will allow farmers to invest confidently in the future. “Our communities will have additional support to attract new economic opportunity and create jobs,” Vilsack said.
“While no legislation is perfect, this bill is a strong investment in American agriculture and supports the continued global leadership of our farmers and ranchers,” Vilsack said.
Agriculture groups said they were pleased that a long-term farm bill has finally crossed the finish line.
“Today's vote is the culmination of years of advocacy by the American Soybean Association and other farm groups on behalf of policies that help our individual crops and our collective industry move forward,” said ASA President Ray Gaesser. “We've invested a great deal of time and energy in this bill, and the final product represents a true compromise that will benefit many crops, regions and aspects of American agriculture.”
ASA said that in addition to a stronger risk management framework, the bill also secures several other ASA priorities: agricultural research programs, including the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative and the new Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research; export promotion done under the Foreign Market Development and Market Access Program; and key energy programs, including the Biodiesel Education Program and a strengthened Biobased Markets Program.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., summed up the historic nature of the vote, by saying, “Hundreds of thousands of producers say, ‘Finally.'”
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