Senate approves farm bill, ag groups react


(Updated Feb. 4, 2014)

SALEM, Ohio — The U.S. Senate approved a new five-year farm bill in a floor vote today (Feb. 4) by a vote of 68-32.

Sen. Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow praised the $1 trillion bill for balancing the interests of agriculture, conservation and nutrition programs.

She called it “a farm bill that works for all of America, for families and farmers, for consumers, for those who care so deeply about protecting our land and our water.”

Republicans and and Democrats have debated a new bill for more than three years, and Stabenow said it’s been 491 days since the last five-year farm bill expired.

“It’s time to pass it, it’s time to get it to the president for his signature,” Stabenow said, adding “our constituents need us to get this done.”

Note: Farm and Dairy watched the Senate and House votes via C-SPAN.

The House passed the same bill Jan. 29, following a bipartisan conference report that cut overall spending by $23 billion, cut $8 billion from food stamps, and ended direct payments to farmers, while providing farmers new insurance and risk management options.

Both Ohio Senators, Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, and Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, voted in favor of the bill, which will now be sent to the president, where it is expected to be signed into law.

(Update: The U.S. House of Representatives approved the farm bill 251-166 in a floor vote today (Jan. 29).

SALEM, Ohio — Top negotiators for the Agricultural Act of 2014 — better known as the farm bill — said Jan. 28 in a call with reporters that they expect swift action by the House and Senate.

Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said the Senate will act as quickly as it can, and the White House will most likely sign the bill into law.

Related: House and Senate reach farm bill agreement.

What they’re saying

The farm bill agreement has set off a long list of reactions from farm and conservation groups — most who say they are in favor of the bill — with some, including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association — strongly against.

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation

The bill will provide farmers and ranchers certainty for the coming year and allow the Agriculture Department to begin planning for implementation of the bill’s provisions.

We appreciate the hard work of the conferees to get the farm bill to this point. They had many tough decisions to make, but were able to move forward with a solid bill that includes many Farm Bureau-supported provisions. We are particularly pleased with provisions to provide risk management to fruit and vegetable farmers and to support livestock farmers during disasters.

Roger Johnson, president of National Farmers Union

The bill includes fixed reference prices to provide assistance to farmers only when truly necessary. It provides a strong crop insurance title and approximately $4 billion in livestock disaster assistance. The bill increases funding for the Farmers Market and Local Foods Promotion Program and related initiatives.

We are also encouraged by the inclusion of robust mandatory funding levels for renewable energy programs. We’re also very happy that the bill preserves the ability of American family farmers and ranchers to distinguish their products in the marketplace through the existing Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) law.

Against COOL

On the flipside, The COOL program is partly why the NCBA opposes the bill, saying that Country of Origin Labeling has hurt producers financially and has created trade prejudices against other countries.

Scott George, NCGA president:

We are disappointed in all members of Congress and especially the members of the Conference Committee for allowing this process to go this far without a solution. Failure to fix MCOOL at this juncture will lead to retaliatory tariffs on a host of commodities and it is only a matter of time before the World Trade Organization rules in favor of Canada and Mexico. Once that happens, producers will realize the full costs of this failed legislation.

This farm bill is foundationally flawed and the livestock sector is standing shoulder-to-shoulder in opposition of a farm bill that will only serve to cause greater harm to rural America.

Livestock support,

However, not everyone in the livestock sector is “shoulder to shoulder” in opposition.

Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation

Despite its limitations, we believe the revised program will help address the volatility in farmers’ milk prices, as well as feed costs, and provide appropriate signals to help address supply and demand.

The program that we have worked to develop establishes a reasonable and responsible national risk management tool that will give farmers the opportunity to insure against catastrophic economic conditions, when milk prices drop, feed prices soar, or the combination. By limiting how much future milk production growth can be insured, the measure creates a disincentive to produce excess milk. The mechanism used is not what we would have preferred, but it will be better than just a stand-alone margin insurance program that lacks any means to disincentivize more milk production during periods of over-supply.

Importantly, the program doesn’t discriminate against farms of differing sizes, or preferentially treat those in differing regions.

Support for produce farms

United Fresh, the nation’s largest produce organization, said the bill does many good things for fruit and vegetable growers.

United Fresh:

The bill contains the most significant government investment ever in the competitiveness of the fruit and vegetable industry, with support for research, pest and disease prevention, state block grants, child nutrition, trade and more. In all, the Farm Bill contains a 55 percent increase in new resources dedicated to these important industry priorities.

Key provisions of this legislation include increased access to fresh produce in federal nutrition programs, expanded research opportunities to enhance our food safety efforts, stronger efforts to address ongoing pest and disease threats, and targeted programs to help us expand trade opportunities.

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