Farm bill compromise attracts broad support
By John O’Connell
The proposed federal farm bill enjoys broad support from farm organizations, whose leaders laud it as a “well-drafted compromise” that cuts $20 billion from the federal budget while improving the insurance safety net for growers.
The five-year bill — reported by the Associated Press to cost about $100 billion per year — has been endorsed by the American Farm Bureau Federation and commodity groups representing sugar, wheat, specialty crops and the produce industry.
A conference report on the bill is scheduled for a Wednesday vote in the House.
The bill ends direct payments to producers, instead bolstering crop insurance programs. It also provides a permanent program to aid livestock producers affected by natural disasters, eliminates 100 programs through consolidation and cuts nutrition assistance funding without eliminating participants.
American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman urged agriculture to unify in support of the bill, which he said contains several provisions supported by his organization.
“We are particularly pleased with provisions to provide risk management to fruit and vegetable farmers and to support livestock farmers during disasters,” Stallman said in a press release.
California Farm Bureau Federation officials emphasized that the conference report removed a “harmful” amendment seeking minimum standards for hen houses involved in production of eggs sold in the Golden State.
Sugar producers praised the bill for retaining the current sugar policy, which has been under attack by confectioners. The sugar policy seeks to prevent oversupply through production limitations and import quotas.
“Falling sugar prices and foreign subsidies have created a challenging environment for U.S. sugar producers and the 142,000 U.S. jobs they help support, but the sugar policy contained in the 2014 Farm Bill gives them the hope of weathering the storm,” the American Sugar Alliance said in a press release.
The bill includes two provisions offered by Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash. — an initiative providing $200 million for job-search training to nutrition assistance recipients and language to reimburse states for aiding other states in wildfire responses.
DelBene also said she likes that the bill reauthorizes key trade promotion programs to open new export markets and provides $410 million for a one-year extension of Payment in Lieu of Taxes, a program aimed at helping rural counties with a large percentage of federal lands fund essential local services.
National Association of Wheat Growers President Bing Von Bergen, a Montana grower, believes crop insurance improvements in the bill will benefit food security.
“In addition, this bill provides the funding for important programs in conservation, research and trade that help keep America’s wheat industry productive and competitive on a global scale,” Von Bergen said.
United Fresh Produce Association President and CEO Tom Stenzel said the bill significantly steps up funding for key produce industry initiatives and programs. He said provisions of the bill provide “the most significant government investment ever in the competitiveness of the fruit and vegetable industry.”
The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, representing more than 120 U.S. specialty crop organizations, also praised funding priorities in the bill.
“After years of effort, America’s fruit and vegetable growers are eager for a farm bill that supports producers, helps families put healthy meals on tables and assists local economies in retaining and growing jobs,” said John Keeling, co-chair of the alliance and executive vice president and CEO of the National Potato Council.
The National Sustainable Ag Coalition criticized the bill’s emphasis on improved insurance programs for “mega-farms” at the expense of environmental and nutrition programs.
For example, the bill reduces the Conservation Reserve Program’s acreage cap to 24 million acres by Fiscal Year 2018, about 1.6 million acres below current enrollment. The Conservation Stewardship Program was reduced by about 2.4 million acres to 10.3 million acres.
NSAC Assistant Policy Director Ariane Lotti acknowledged she also sees plenty to like about the bill, such as its investment in the next generation of farmers, local and organic agriculture and economic opportunities for rural communities.
“We support moving forward but will continue working for the real reform this bill lacks,” Lotti said.