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La. Farm Bureau/Radio Network‏

February 5, 2014

Finally: A Farm Bill!!

The Senate on Tuesday passed the long-awaited farm bill, ending two years of partisan rancor and stalled negotiations and clearing what is expected to be the last hurdle for the nearly $1 trillion spending measure.

The bill was passed with strong bipartisan support, 68 to 32. The legislation now heads to the desk of President Obama, who is expected to sign it.

"Many people said this would never happen in this environment, but Congress has come together to pass a major bipartisan jobs bill," said Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan and chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. "This effort proves that by working across party lines, we can save taxpayer money and create smart policies that lay the foundation for a stronger economy."

The nearly 1,000-page bill reauthorizes hundreds of programs for agriculture, dairy production, conservation, nutrition and international food aid.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill will cost $956 billion and reduce spending on farm subsidies and nutrition by $16.6 billion over the next 10 years. But lawmakers said the savings would be much higher, around $23 billion, when sequestration cuts to agriculture programs were factored in.

Among the biggest changes in the bill are cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, the expansion of the crop insurance program and the elimination of direct payments to farmers. Direct payments have cost about $5 billion a year, and have been paid to farmers regardless of whether they grew crops.

Spending on the food stamp program will be reduced by about $8 billion over the next decade, and will account for about 1 percent of the total spending in the bill. The reduction in spending will affect about 1.7 million people, who will have their benefits reduced by about $90 a month, according to the budget office. The bill's proponents said the measure closed a loophole exploited by 16 states that helped food stamp recipients get more in benefits than they should have.

The bill adds $7 billion to the crop insurance program, a government-backed insurance subsidy that dates to the Dust Bowl. Taxpayers pay about 62 percent of the premiums. Some of the savings from the elimination of direct payments will be added to the crop insurance program. Proponents of the program said it provides a better safety net for farmers and ensures that they get help only in cases when they need it, such as a natural disaster.

The bill also makes changes to the international food aid program and contains several conservation measures supported by environmental and hunting groups. And it adds money to combat fraud in the food stamp and crop insurance programs.

Strain Lauds Congress for Final Passage of Farm Bill

"For more than a year, we have struggled to gain stability for the nation's farmers while a long-term Farm bill was in limbo. I am happy to hear our congressional leaders have finally resolved their differences and voted in favor of a five-year Farm Bill. It was certainly overdue.

"The agriculture, forestry and aquaculture industries are the largest sector of our state's economy comprising of more than 85 percent of the surface area of this state. Valued at about $11.4 billion, these industries combined make up one of Louisiana's largest and most economically dependent industries. With more than $140 billion in exports last year, agriculture continues to improve our balance of trade through trade promotion programs and opening new products for American goods. This in turn promotes rural development and creates needed jobs here at home.

"The legislation is an extremely important piece of legislation for the U.S. farmer and rancher as it sets the course for the largest industry in Louisiana and America. The Farm Bill promotes an economically healthy U.S. agricultural sector that is in and of itself one of the foundations of our economy.

"The five-year Farm Bill will now provide much needed certainty for agricultural producers, allowing them to plan and make business decisions as they continue to produce a safe and abundant supply of food, fiber, and fuel. Their ability to do so is vital to our national security and economy. Of course, the risk of not having a five-year Farm Bill makes it more difficult for producers to secure financing for planting next year's crop, leaves livestock producers in drought-stricken regions of the country without important disaster assistance, and important export promotion programs are frozen.

"The new Farm Bill provides mechanisms for much needed market protection, natural resource conservation and disaster assistance programs. If managed properly, agriculture, forestry, and aquaculture are infinitely renewable and sustainable. This bill will provide farmers and ranchers certainty for the coming year and allow the United States Department of Agriculture and its related agencies to begin planning for its implementation.

"The United States leads, feeds, clothes, and provides fiber for its people and much of the world. This is the greatest challenge of our generation. We must ensure America's agricultural economy remains strong."

President Barack Obama is expected to give final approval of the Farm Bill.

AFBF President Bob Stallman Is Happy Too

"The American Farm Bureau Federation commends the Senate for passing the new five-year farm bill with clear, bipartisan support. America's farmers and ranchers are one step closer to having the certainty needed-and provided by the farm bill-to make planting and farm business decisions.

"The farm bill provides farmers and ranchers certainty for the coming year, allowing them to continue with their business of providing food and jobs for America. We are particularly pleased with provisions in the 2014 farm bill to provide risk management to fruit and vegetable farmers and to support livestock farmers during disasters.

"Farm Bureau now looks forward to bringing the legislation across the finish line with the president's signature and working with USDA to get the new farm bill implemented as soon as possible."

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