Farm bill finally enroute to president
By LARRY KERSHNER
WASHINGTON – At long last, there is a farm bill.
The Senate approved the 2014 farm bill Tuesday on a 68-32 vote.
It was the third time the Senate has passed a farm bill, only for the measure to be defeated in the House.
Following a conference committee that started in December 2013, the farm bill was introduced to and passed the House on Jan. 29.
The Senate debated the bill in cloture on Monday and approved bringing it to the floor for a final vote Tuesday.
Despite the long-awaited measure, not everyone was happy over the conference committee’s work.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said he was angry that an amendment limiting the amount of government payments any one farmer can receive annually, which passed by House and Senate earlier, was struck from the final product.
“You could have saved $380 million,” Grassley said during Monday’s debate, “and it’s not here. When 10 percent of the farmers get 70 percent of the benefits, it makes it harder for young farmers.
“Getting bigger is not a problem, but letting big farmers be subsidized in order to get larger is wrong.”
He said he could not vote for the bill in cloture “if we can’t cut sudsidies to million-dollar farmers who don’t farm.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said he was opposed to dropping the payment limits and then blasted other provisions, including:
- $7 million for marketing sheep.
- $100 million for promoting the maple syrup industry.
- A 15-cent fee for harvesting each Christmas tree that would go to benefit orchards.
- $12 million for wool research and promotion.
- $5 million for evaluating if public schools can serve dried fruit and vegetables to students.
- $25 to teach children how to garden and understand the sources of food.
- $15 million to create a Catfish Office within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
- Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who chairs the Senate agriculture committee, and chaired the conference committee that negotiated the current bill, said those opposed to the measure “are arguing the old farm bill.
“They don’t understand what we are doing here. “This is not your father’s farm bill.”
Calling the measure “a farm bill for the future,” Stabenow the document provides strong conservation practices, clean energy, more research and is a local foods bill.
She said it’s also designed “to eliminate direct payments and move farmers to responsible risk management.”
The bill sets a $125,000 cap for commodity programs and calls for the USDA “to close the manager loophole.”
For the first time, Stabenow said, this bill links requirements for farmers to meet conservation compliance regulations that are linked to crop insurance.
“It keeps the safety in place,” she said, “but also conserves soil and water for generations to come.”
As a local foods bill, she said the new law will be more flexible for getting funds to food programs – including food banks – around the U.S. and the world.
As a jobs bill, Stabenow said there are provisions to make veterans more eligible for assistance to start farming.
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