US Senate passes farm bill

by Jay Sjerven
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WASHINGTON — The US Senate on June 10 approved the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 by a vote of 66 to 27. The bill aimed to reform the nation’s farm support and conservation programs and eliminate waste and fraud in nutrition programs all while trimming more than $24 billion in spending compared with the current farm act.

The bill was similar in all major respects to the farm legislation passed by the Senate about the same time last year. That bill never went to conference because the leadership of the House of Representatives failed to bring the farm bill passed by the House Committee on Agriculture to the House floor for a vote. As a result, the current farm law, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, which expired last year, was extended through Sept. 30, 2013.

With so much of the work done in 2012, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry was able to expedite consideration of the farm legislation in the current session. The agriculture committee passed the farm bill in mid-May.

The Senate bill was a mixed bag for the grain and food industries. The bill would revamp federal farm support programs by eliminating direct payments and counter-cyclical payments as well as the Average Crop Revenue Election and the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments programs. The Senate agriculture committee asserted the reforms would create $16 billion in saving for deficit reduction.

The bill would render any person or entity with adjusted gross income of more than $750,000 ineligible for payments under Title I farm bill programs, and payments are capped at $50,000 per entity. The bill also would ensure payments would only go to farmers with an active stake in a farming operation.
Crop insurance would be enhanced and become the principal means for producers to manage the risks of farming.

The grain industry long has sought to limit enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program to demonstrably highly erodible acres, and the Senate farm bill makes strides to making this goal a reality by gradually lowering the cap on enrollment to 25 million acres from the current cap of 32 million acres.

Those seeking reform of the nation’s sugar program, though, will be disappointed as the Senate bill would continue the current program without changes through 2017.

Another concern was the bill’s trimming of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the nation’s fundamental safety net program ensuring those who need food assistance receive it. Since law requires that any individual qualifying for SNAP benefits must receive them, the only ways to reduce spending on the program is to reduce the benefits or tighten eligibility requirements. The Senate bill asserts that $4 billion in spending reductions would be realized by cracking down on alleged fraud and abuse in SNAP.

The House of Representative was expected to consider the farm bill passed its agriculture committee this summer.
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