SALEM, Ohio — The U.S. Senate passed the 2013 Farm Bill 66-27 during an evening vote June 10. It cuts $24 billion in spending and is the second time the Senate has approved a five-year farm bill in a year.
The Senate last approved a farm bill in June of 2012, which died after a lack of action in the House.
The bill seeks to eliminate unnecessary direct payment subsidies to farmers, consolidates programs to end duplication and cracks down on food assistance abuse. It appears to be backed by most of the nation’s largest farm organizations, which gave statements Monday evening to media.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. said the bill is a bipartisan victory.
“Because we worked across party lines to streamline programs, we were able to save tax dollars while investing in initiatives that help boost exports, help family farmers sell locally and spur innovations in new bio-manufacturing and bio-energy industries,” she said in a statement to media.
Instead of subsidies that pay out every year, even in good times, the bill creates risk management tools that support farmers when they are “negatively impacted by weather disaster or market events beyond their control.”
It also eliminates more than 100 programs and cracks down on abuse.
House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said he was pleased with the decision and expects the House will consider the bill the week of June 17.
“It’s going to be difficult, but if everything stays on track, I believe it’s possible to get a bill to the president before the August recess, finally providing some certainty for our farmers, ranchers and consumers,” he said in a statement to media.
Food stamp issue
The House and Senate versions of the bill are similar in many areas, but the House version calls for about $20 billion in cuts to food stamps (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), while the Senate cuts just $4 billion.
There also is some speculation that the House and Senate will disagree over previsions related to the Dairy Security Act, which provides a new safety net for dairy farmers.
But for now, the Senate and House bills include the act, and have received praise from the nation’s largest dairy cooperative — National Milk Producers Federation.
“On this strong bipartisan vote, the Senate has again shown its determination to put politics aside and work to implement new and better policies for America, including the country’s dairy farmers,” said NMPF President Jerry Kozak.
The Dairy Security Act establishes a voluntary margin insurance program allowing farmers to better manage the risks of milk price and feed cost volatility. The measure also includes a market stabilization program to improve the cost-effectiveness of the program, helping farmers and tax payers.
Both the Ohio Soybean Association and Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association had good things to say about the bill.
“After facing one of the most difficult seasons in decades with the drought of 2012, we are pleased to see the Senate recognized the need and importance of a safety-net for Ohio’s farmers,” said Tadd Nicholson, OCWGA executive director.
“The crop insurance program remains one of the most important tools available to Ohio farmers when they face circumstances beyond their control and we are grateful the committee chose to support the program.”
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the bill includes provisions that he helped author, especially for local foods programs as well as production agriculture.
Provisions from Brown’s Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act are expected to help Ohio farmers and ranchers sell directly to consumers.
The farm bill also builds on the “Grow it here, Make it here” initiative, which would boost the manufacturing of bio-based products made with agricultural materials. Ohio has about 130 companies that currently make bio-based products, including from waste streams, renewable plant, animal, marine and forestry materials.
The House Agriculture Committee approved its own farm bill 36-10 in May. Farm organizations say they hope the progress in the House continues.
“We encourage the House of Representatives to also support its agriculture committee-passed bill, and reject any dairy processor-backed amendment to undermine the bill’s effectiveness by removing the market stabilization program,” Kozak said.
He added, “Prompt action in the House is necessary so that farmers won’t spend the last half of this year like they spent 2012: Expecting a harvest that never materializes.”