Farm bill passes Senate

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, February 5, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — The sweeping farm bill that Congress sent to President Barack Obama Tuesday has something for almost everyone, from the nation’s 47 million food stamp recipients to Southern peanut growers, Midwest corn farmers and the maple syrup industry in the Northeast.

After years of setbacks, the Senate on Tuesday sent the nearly $100 billion-a-year measure to President Obama. The White House said the president will sign the bill on Friday in Michigan, the home state of Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow.

The Senate passed the bill 68-32 after House passage last week. The bill provides a financial cushion for farmers who face unpredictable weather and market conditions. It also provides subsidies for rural communities and environmentally-sensitive land. But the bulk of its cost is for the food stamp program, which aids 1 in 7 Americans. The bill would cut food stamps by $800 million a year, or around 1 percent.

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U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the nation will benefit from the certainty created with passage of a five-year farm bill that improves and reforms agricultural policies, while also driving down government spending.

Cochran was among the four principal negotiators who hammered out the Agricultural Act of 2014 that gained final congressional approval Tuesday. The 2014 farm bill is the first major reform of policies for agriculture, conservation, nutrition assistance and agricultural research programs since 2008.

“The new farm bill sets an improved course for U.S. agriculture production, one that should make our farmers and ranchers more competitive as they supply the food and fiber that Americans and people throughout the world have come to rely on,” Cochran said. “I am pleased with the Senate’s strong support for a farm bill that achieves significant savings and addresses a variety of agriculture needs across the country.”

The new farm bill was developed over several years, but Cochran said it gained momentum after he assumed the ranking member position on the Senate Agriculture Committee in January 2013. Cochran said the new farm bill addresses his concern that federal agriculture policies should meet the diverse needs of producers from various regions who face different risks when producing food and fiber for the nation.

In a statement after Tuesday’s vote, Obama said the bill would reduce the deficit “without gutting the vital assistance programs millions of hardworking Americans count on to help put food on the table for their families.”

He said the farm bill isn’t perfect, “but on the whole, it will make a positive difference not only for the rural economies that grow America’s food, but for our nation.”

Obama praised the bill for getting rid of controversial subsidies known as direct payments, which are paid to farmers whether they farm or not. Most of that program’s $4.5 billion annual cost was redirected into new, more politically defensible subsidies that would kick in when a farmer has losses.