Farm bill clears Senate Ag Committee with bipartisan support

Click here to see what commodity leaders had to say.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The farm bill is on its way to the full Senate, following a bipartisan vote April 26 in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

Authored by Committee Chairwoman Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Ranking Member Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the bill reforms food and agricultural policy by eliminating direct payments and emphasizing the need to strengthen risk management tools for farmers.

Properly called the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, the bill would reduce the deficit by $23 billion by eliminating unnecessary subsidies, consolidating programs to end duplication, and cracking down on food assistance abuse.

“The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 will save taxpayers billions of dollars while promising a safe and healthy national food supply,” Stabenow said in a released statement. “By eliminating duplication, and streamlining and consolidating programs, we were able to continue investing in initiatives that help farmers and small businesses create jobs.

“We’ve worked hard to put together the best bill possible,” said Roberts. “We’ve cut deficit spending while at the same time strengthened and preserved programs important to agriculture and rural America.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the bill overhauls the farm safety net, bolsters rural economic development and ensures access to healthy and affordable food. He is chairman of the Subcommittee on Nutrition, Specialty Crops, Food and Agricultural Research.

Brown called the bill “the most sweeping reform to agriculture policy in nearly 20 years,” adding that it “promotes Ohio agriculture, protects critical nutrition programs, promotes conservation,” and invests in farm-based renewable energy.

Highlights:

Here is an overview of what the bill would do.

• Eliminates direct payments. Farmers will no longer be paid for crops they are not growing, will not be paid for acres that are not actually planted, and will not receive support absent a drop in price or yields.

• Consolidates two remaining farm programs into one, and will give farmers the ability to tailor risk management coverage — meaning better protection against real risks beyond a farmer’s control.

• Strengthens crop insurance and expands access so farmers are not wiped out by a few days of bad weather.

Consolidates and Streamlines Programs:

• By ending duplication and consolidating programs, the bill eliminates dozens of programs under the Agriculture Committee’s jurisdiction.

• The bill consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13 programs, while maintaining the existing tools farmers and landowners need to protect and conserve land, water and wildlife.

Improves Program Integrity and Accountability:

• Increases accountability in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by stopping lottery winners from continuing to receive assistance; ending misuse by college students; cracking down on retailers and recipients engaged in benefit trafficking; increasing requirements to prevent liquor and tobacco stores from becoming retailers; eliminating gaps in standards that result in overpayment of benefits; and maintaining benefits for families in need.

Grows America’s Agricultural Economy:

• Expanding export opportunities and helping farmers develop new markets for their goods, and investing in research to help commercialize new agricultural innovations.

• Growing bio-based manufacturing (businesses producing goods in America from raw agricultural products grown in America) by allowing bio-manufacturers to participate in existing U.S. Department of Agriculture loan programs, expanding the BioPreferred labeling initiative, and strengthening a procurement preference so the U.S. government will select bio-based products when purchasing needed goods.

• Spurring advancements in bio-energy production, supporting advanced biomass energy production such as cellulosic ethanol and pellets from woody biomass for power.

• Helping family farmers sell locally by increasing support for farmers’ markets and spurring the creation of food hubs to connect farmers to schools and other community-based consumers.

• Extending rural development initiatives to help rural communities upgrade infrastructure and create an environment for small businesses to grow.

Moving forward

Bob Stallman, president of American Farm Bureau Federation, said the bill “is not perfect, but it is a suitable policy vehicle with sold framework on which to make further improvements. “Certainly, having a bill in place this year is in the best interests of all farmers.”

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said the bill will mean good things for jobs and farm-produced energy.

“This represents progress toward providing a fiscally responsible farm safety net directed to family farmers and ranchers,” he said in a statement. “The bill’s investment in rural America will create jobs and opportunities for farmers to continue providing energy and conservation benefits to all Americans.”

About the Author

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties. More Stories by Chris Kick

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