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US Senate Approves Farm Bill; Catfish Farmers Win Provision

05 February 2014

US - After three long years of twists and turns, the US Senate voted Tuesday in a rare bipartisan agreement to approve the nearly $1 trillion 2014 Farm Bill by a vote of 68-32.

Oddly enough, US catfish farmers were deemed one of the big winners of the Farm Bill. Southern legislatures fought to keep a provision shifting catfish inspection to the Agriculture Department from the Food and Drug Administration. Some said the provision was a trade barrier designed to protect catfish farmers from Vietnamese imports. However, those in favor made the case that USDA inspectors would be better in the interest of food safety.

The 2014 Farm Bill reduces the deficit by $23 billion over 10 years and represents the most significant reform of American agriculture policy in decades. Approved by the House last week, the bill will now head to the White House for the president's signature - expectations are for President Barack Obama to sign it Friday in East Lansing, Michigan after delivering remarks at Michigan State University on the importance of the bill to America's economy.

"This isn't your father's Farm Bill. It is a bill for our future that grows our agriculture economy, helps provide greater access to healthy Michigan-grown foods, preserves our land and water, and cuts unnecessary spending. The Farm Bill is a rare example of a major bipartisan jobs bill and a bipartisan deficit reduction bill," said U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and co-author of the Farm Bill.

The bipartisan, five-year Farm Bill, entitled the Agricultural Act of 2014, will reform agriculture programs, reduce the deficit by $23 billion.

The 2014 Farm Bill:

  • Eliminates unnecessary direct payment subsidies, a major reform in American agriculture policy. Direct payments are paid out every year whether or not there is a need.
  • Ends programs that are no longer working and consolidates duplicative programs, eliminating 100 programs or authorizations in total.
  • Strengthens crop insurance and makes it available to specialty crop (i.e., fruit and vegetable) growers.

Ending Direct Payments

The 2014 Farm Bill saves taxpayer dollars by finally ending direct payment subsidies and other farm subsidy programs. Overall, this bill cuts farm program spending by $23.3 billion.

Strengthening Responsible Risk Management

Instead of providing direct payments, which were paid every year whether they were needed or not, the 2014 Farm Bill requires farmers to take responsibility for their own risk management through tools that provide support only when there is a need - because of weather disaster or market volatility.

The bill strengthens risk management tools like crop insurance to ensure farmers are not wiped out by weather disasters and protects Americans from sudden spikes in food prices. Farmers pay into crop insurance every year, sharing in the cost of disaster relief. Having an effective crop insurance program in place reduces the need for Congress to pass ad hoc disaster bills.

The Farm Bill expands crop insurance protection for fruit growers who have not traditionally had access to it. The bill provides disaster relief to farmers who did not have access to crop insurance and were hit by weather disaster in recent years.

The bill also creates a permanent livestock disaster assistance program, and retroactively covers producers who were affected by the recent droughts and winter storms on the northern plains.

Streamlining Programs, Strengthening Conservation

The 2014 Farm Bill consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13 - while maintaining existing tools to protect and conserve our land, water and wildlife, saving $6 billion. 

The bill also includes a landmark conservation compliance agreement, which ensures crop insurance remains strong while conserving millions of acres of vulnerable lands and resources that our farmers and ranchers will rely on for generations to come. 

Ending Fraud and Misuse in Food Assistance Programs, Protecting Benefits for Families

The bipartisan Farm Bill stops fraud and misuse to achieve savings in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, a.k.a. "food stamps") while maintaining critical assistance for families that need temporary support. The Farm Bill stops lottery winners from continuing to receive assistance, cracks down on benefit trafficking, and closes a loophole being used by some states to artificially inflate benefits for a small number of recipients.

The Farm Bill also provides new pilot programs to help people secure employment through job training and other services, giving them the resources necessary to earn a sustainable income. CBO estimates this section of the bill will save $8 billion without reducing the amount of benefits anyone is intended to receive under the current rules of the program.

The Farm Bill also doubles SNAP benefits for low-income families when they buy healthy produce at farmers' markets, increases funding for food banks, and provides financing for new grocery stores in under-served neighborhoods.

The bill also reforms international food aid programs, allowing America to feed 500,000 more hungry people around the world with no additional cost.

Industry Response

“We’re happy to see the farm bill pass the Senate and are looking forward to seeing it signed and implemented,” said NCGA President Martin Barbre. “It was a long time coming for a bill so important for promoting stability in farm policy while saving taxpayers money and feeding the hungry. While it’s not perfect, we’re pleased to see the bill contains many provisions we’ve been working hard for over the years.”

Senator Patrick Leahy passing the 2014 Farm Bill was a particularly long journey with its fair share of twists and turns – right down to the negotiations on dairy policy in the fleeting hours before we as conferees signed this conference report. 

"I am disappointed that the commonsense dairy policies that were passed twice by the full Senate and also by the House Agriculture Committee were ambushed at the last hour," Leahy said. "As a result we do not have a market stabilization program – proposed by dairy farmers themselves – that would have protected taxpayers from exorbitant costs, and insulated dairy farmers and consumers from volatile, rollercoastering milk prices."

National Association of Wheat Growers President Bing Von Bergen said, This bill strengthens crop insurance and allows growers the necessary safety net to keep a secure, affordable and healthy food supply. In addition, this bill provides funding for important programs in conservation, research and trade that help keep America’s wheat industry productive and competitive on a global scale.”



Sarah Mikesell, Senior Editor

Sarah Mikesell, Senior Editor

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