Senate passes new farm bill

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(This article is being updated as new information confirmed.)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate has approved the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, S. 3240, also known as the farm bill, with a vote of 64 to 35.

The passage comes after a two-day consideration of more than 70 amendments, pared down from nearly 300 that were submitted. The vote was taken this afternoon, June 21.

Ohio’s two senators were divided on the bill, with Sen. Sherrod Brown voting for the farm bill proposal and Sen. Rob Portman voting against it. Likewise, in Pennsylvania, Sen. Robert Casey Jr. voted for the bill; Sen. Patrick Toomey did not.

On the House side

The House agriculture committee has yet to begin marking up their version of the bill, but is expected to take up the farm bill July 11.

U.S. House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn., released a statement commending the Senate ag leaders, but added, “I’m not on board with everything they’ve done, but think that we’ll be able to work out our differences in conference committee.”

Peterson said it’s crucial that the House committee and the full House act quickly.

“Waiting until the mess that will occur during the lame duck session will not only make it more difficult, but could also result in several unintended consequences,” although he didn’t specify what those consequences are.
“If the House Ag Committee passes a bipartisan bill in early July, House leadership will then have little choice but to bring the farm bill to the floor before the August recess.”

Dairy reform

The nearly 1,000-page bill includes an amendment with the Dairy Security Act, supported by the National Milk Producers Federation.

Jerry Kozak, president and CEO of NMPF, said the dairy title contains a better safety net for farmers in the form of the Dairy Production Margin Protection Program, which offers a basic level of coverage against low margins, as well as a supplemental insurance plan offering higher levels of protection jointly funded by the government and participating farmers.

Those farmers choosing to enroll in the margin program will also be subject to a Market Stabilization Program that addresses the imbalance between supply and demand when farm-level margins are poor.

He hailed the bill’s passage as a “huge and historic step toward making a once-in-a-generation improvement in the safety net for America’s dairy farmers.”

Fighting for jobs

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., ranking member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, in a prepared statement released after the bill’s passage, said crafting farm bills are never easy.

“Historically, we have had to overcome not only the usual partisan divide in Washington, but those along regional lines too. This is nothing new,” said Roberts, who is working on his seventh farm bill. But then he added a little party rhetoric.

“For this farm bill, however, we had the added difficulty of negotiating in a bad economy with out-of-control federal deficit spending.”

“I decided to fight for a farm bill because the people of Kansas elected me to do everything in my power to fight for policies that provide stability, job creation and economic growth for the nation and for rural areas in particular,” he added.

Amendments to the nutrition title of the bill to close loopholes, cut administrative costs and address fraud and abuse failed on a party line vote, Roberts said.

Solid bill

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said in a prepared statement, that “while no farm bill is perfect, this is a solid bill that was worthy of Senate approval.

Stallman said the Senate bill “protects and strengthens the federal crop insurance program and provides a commodity title that attempts to encourage producers to follow market signals rather than make planting decisions in anticipation of government payments.”

He also emphasized “having a new farm bill in place this year is overwhelmingly in the best interest of our members.”

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