The Senate gave its final approval to a new five-year farm bill Tuesday with a 68-32 vote, sending the measure to President Barack Obama for singing, and ultimately ending years of political battles that had left farmers and ranching waiting for legislation that serves as their “road map” for operating in an up-and-down and ever-changing agriculture industry.
The bill voted on by the Senate Tuesday was the same that had been passed by the House of Representatives and the Farm Bill Conference Committee in recent weeks.
Obama was expected to sign the bill into law on Friday.
The quick farm bill action recently has come as a relief to those in the agriculture industry and others. The 2008 farm bill expired on Sept. 30, 2012, and lawmakers had long been unable to agree on the details of a new one, and, instead passed short-term extensions.
A farm bill provides a financial cushion for farmers who face unpredictable weather and market conditions, although the bulk of its nearly $100 billion-a-year cost is for the food stamp program, which aids 1 in 7 Americans.
House Republicans had hoped to trim the bill’s costs more than what the final farm bill cuts, pointing to a booming agriculture sector in recent years and saying the now $80 billion-a-year food stamp program has spiraled out of control.
The food stamp program was cut about 1 percent; the House had pushed for five times that much.
Implementation of these changes is expected to take anywhere from a few days up to a year-and-a-half.
News releases from various members of the Senate and House ag committees — including Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., the chairperson of the House Agriculture Committee — have praised the new farm bill for a number of reasons.
Farmers, ranchers and dairymen, too, have been generally pleased with the outcome.
They say the new farm bill, officially titled the Agricultural Act of 2014:
• Reduces the deficit by $23 billion, making the farm bill one of the few deficit-reducing bills to pass this Congress.
• Repeals Direct Payments and limits producers to risk management tools that offer protection when they suffer significant losses.
• Reduces limits on payments, tightens eligibility rules and means tests are streamlined to make farm programs more accountable.
• Strengthens crop insurance, a successful public/private partnership that ensures farmers invest in their own risk management.
• Provides historic reforms to dairy policy by repealing outdated and ineffective dairy programs. It offers producers a new, voluntary, margin protection program without imposing government-mandated supply controls.
• Supports small businesses and beginning farmers and ranchers with training and access to capital.
• Improves conservation easement programs, allowing landowners to preserve their land for future generations while still using it for crop production and grazing.
• Includes livestock disaster assistance to help ranchers deal with extreme weather that didn’t exist before.
• Supports organic agriculture, including extending crop insurance coverage to organics and allowing producers to create an organic check-off program.
• Includes resources for agricultural research, including new support for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network to protect the livestock sector against potential disease outbreaks.
• Includes resources to support rural development overall.
Food Stamp Reforms
The Agricultural Act of 2014 makes the first reforms to the food stamp program since the welfare reforms of 1996 while maintaining food assistance.
The new farm bill:
• Closes the “heat-and-eat” loophole that artificially increases benefit levels when states provide nominal LIHEAP assistance.
• Establishes a 10-state pilot to empower states to engage able-bodied adults in mandatory work programs.
• Prohibits the USDA from engaging in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recruitment activities, and advertising SNAP on TV, radio, billboards and through foreign governments.
• Ensures illegal immigrants, lottery winners, traditional college students and the deceased do not receive benefits.
• Ensures SNAP recipients are not receiving benefits in multiple states.
• Prevents abuses, such as water dumping to exchange bottles for cash.
• Demands outcomes from existing employment and training programs.
• Prohibits states from manipulating SNAP benefit levels by eliminating medical marijuana as an allowable medical expense.
• Allows states to pursue retailer fraud through a pilot investigation program and crack down on trafficking through data mining, terminal ID, and other measures.
• Increases assistance for food banks.
Additional Reforms and Regulatory Relief
The Agricultural Act of 2014 also includes multiple regulatory relief provisions benefiting agricultural and forestry industries.
The new farm bill:
• Consolidates 23 duplicative and overlapping conservation programs into 13.
• Provides one year of full funding for the Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, which provides funding for vital services in communities containing federal lands.
• Provides certainty to the forest products industry by clarifying that forest roads and related silvicultural activities should not be treated as a point source under the Clean Water Act.
• Creates a permanent subcommittee within the Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board to conduct peer review of EPA actions that would negatively impact agriculture.
• Enhances coordination between USDA, EPA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration regarding the conflict between laws governing pesticide use and the Endangered Species Act.
• Enhances coordination between USDA and the U.S. FWS regarding actions taken to manage the lesser prairie chicken.
• Eliminates duplicative reporting requirements for seed importers; requires improved economic analysis of FDA regulations.
Praise for the new farm bill
Among other things, the Colorado Farm Bureau expressed appreciation for the nearly $7 billion in funding for ranchers through livestock disaster programs, conservation, research, energy and export promotion.
“Colorado Farm Bureau commends the House and Senate for passing the Agricultural Act of 2014,” said Don Shawcroft, CFB president. “Consumers and producers need a farm bill that strengthens the diversity of the American agricultural sector by providing a safe, reliable food supply through domestic and international trade.”
Shawcroft continued, “It should not be forgotten that a self sufficient agricultural industry and the ability to feed ourselves helps maintain our national security. Colorado farmers and ranchers strive everyday to provide the safest and most abundant food supply in the world and this piece of legislation helps support them in their daily work.”
Colorado Farm Bureau would like to thank Rep. Cory Gardner, Rep. Ed Perlmutter, Sen. Mark Udall and Sen. Michael Bennet for their continued support of the Colorado agricultural industry and for their hard work and dedication to making sure Colorado producers and consumers have jobs and access to affordable and safe food.
“We are encouraged by this bipartisan bill, which contributes major savings for the American people by reducing the national deficit, growing the economy through jobs and significantly reforming agricultural policy while still providing a safeguard for producers,” Shawcroft said.
— Colorado Farm Bureau
USCA President Jon Wooster of San Lucas, Calif., commented on the bill’s passage, saying “USCA extends its thanks and support to those Members and staff who have enabled the final passage of the farm bill through Congress. The commitment by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS), House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) to produce this bipartisan bill is applauded. Our membership remains supportive of this final bill and commends the work that has led to this ultimate passage.”
USCA commented previously on the multiple provisions within the bill that will support and aide those within the livestock industry. President Wooster commented further on these programs, saying that, “Given the catastrophic Winter Storm Atlas and the ongoing drought across California and the West, the livestock disaster provisions within this bill will provide necessary assistance to many states currently looking to recover from these weather-related disasters. The implementation of these programs under a ten-year baseline, versus the ad hoc temporary funding used previously, will provide assurance to those affected and for the industry in years to come.”
USCA is pleased that the final bill does not contain language that would repeal or interfere with the ongoing country of origin labeling (COOL) case at the World Trade Organization (WTO). USCA was supportive of a “clean” farm bill from the offset and applauds the policy-makers for keeping divisive issues such as COOL and restrictions to the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Act (GIPSA) out of the final bill.
— U.S. Cattlemen’s Association
Not Everyone’s On Board With The New Farm Bill
The Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Neb., had urged the Senate not to pass the farm bill this past week, issuing the following statement:
“Sadly, the back-room deal struck in Conference Committee rejects the bipartisan farm subsidy reform that was included in the farm bills passed in both the House and Senate,” said Traci Bruckner, senior policy associate with the Center for Rural Affairs. “And the deal will result in virtually unlimited farm program payments continuing to inure to the nation’s largest and wealthiest mega-farms.”
“We continue to urge members of the Senate to vote against this compromise package and send the bill back to the Conference,” said Bruckner. “And they should push for Conferees to reinstate the farm subsidy reforms that Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA). Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD), and Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) have fought so hard to win bipartisan majority support for in both the House and Senate.”
According to Bruckner, instead of a $40,000 annual limit on primary farm program payments (double that for married couples), the bill would set a $125,000 limit (again, doubled for married couples). Even more appallingly, the bill removes the House and Senate-passed provisions to close the loopholes that currently allow large, wealthy farms to collect many multiples of the normal payment limit. Instead they leave the loopholes entirely intact and punt any decisions about the loopholes to the Obama administration.
— Center for Rural Affairs