New farm bill emerges from conference committee

Holstein cows
(Farm and Dairy file photo)

UPDATE: Late Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 11, the U.S. Senate passed the farm bill by a vote of 87-13. The House passed the bill 369-47, in a vote late Wednesday, Dec. 12.

SALEM, Ohio — Farmers may just get the Christmas gift they had hoped for: a new farm bill.

On Dec. 10, the members of the farm bill conference committee filed their final report, which is now publicly available and will be voted on by both the House and Senate, perhaps as early as this week.

During a call with reporters Dec. 4, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said he expects to have a bill for the president to sign before the holidays.

Brown, a Democrat from Cleveland, is one of nine Senators on the committee, which also includes House members, including U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, a Republican from Lakeville, Ohio.

“At the beginning of the year, I pledged to get the farm bill done, so that we could provide Ohio farmers with the certainty they deserve,” Brown said. “And I’m proud that this final bipartisan bill will do that.”

In a statement after the conference report release, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said, “While we would have liked to see more progress on work requirements for SNAP recipients and forest management reforms, the conference agreement does include several helpful provisions and we will continue to build upon these through our authorities.”

If Congress passes the legislation, Perdue said he would encourage the president to sign it.

Many improvements

Brown said the new five-year bill provides important improvements for dairy farmers, as well as soybean and corn farmers.

At the same time, the bill will protect funding for nutrition programs that feed hungry families, while also investing in programs to improve water quality in Lake Erie and across Ohio.

One of the biggest differences between the House and Senate versions dealt with work requirements for recipients of food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. House conservatives wanted to expand the work-related requirements sot that able-bodied adults who receive food stamps would be required to work to the age of 59, instead of 49.

The House also sought work requirements for parents with children older than 6, to either work or participate in job training, but the work-related requirements were dropped at the end of November, from a lack of Senate support.

Dairy reform

The new bill will offer various improvements, including reforms to conservation programs, and for dairy farmers, a new milk risk protection program, designed to replace the unpopular milk Margin Protection Program, included in the 2014 farm bill.

The Senate calls the new program the “Dairy Risk Coverage” program, which would raise the maximum covered margin to $9/cwt. and adjust the minimum percentage of milk that can be insured.

Timely relief. The farm bill should provide some timely relief, according to House Ag Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas.

“America’s farmers and ranchers are weathering the fifth year of severe recession, so passing a farm bill this week that strengthens the farm safety net is vitally important,” he said, in a released statement.

Sen. Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, said the two-year process is in the final stretch.

“We started this journey nearly two years ago. Since then, the Senate Agriculture Committee has held dozens of hearings, listened to more than 90 witnesses, and received thousands of public comments,” Roberts said. “As promised, this farm bill provides much needed certainty and predictability for all producers — of all crops — across all regions across the country. I thank my counterparts in the Senate and House for coming to — and staying at — the table to reach a bipartisan, bicameral agreement for rural America.”

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