The Senate has passed a five-year, half-trillion-dollar farm bill that cuts farm subsidies and land conservation spending by about $2 billion a year. But the measure largely protects sugar growers and some 46 million food stamp beneficiaries.
The 64-35 vote for passage defied the political odds. Many predicted that legislation this expensive and complicated would have little chance in an election year.
The bill passed by the Senate eliminates direct payments to farmers relying instead on federal crop insurance programs.
Even though it's called the "Farm Bill" 80% of the half-trillion dollar piece of legislation goes to federal food and nutrition programs.
In a press release the Nebraska Farm Bureau said, "Thursday's vote in the Senate is a great step forward toward final passage of the 2012 Farm Bill. We believe it is critical Congress pass a farm bill in 2012 to provide certainty for farmers and ranchers given the farm bill touches virtually every aspect of American agriculture."
President Steve Nelson added, “While the Senate’s version may not be perfect, it achieves several major Farm Bureau objectives including eliminating the existing annual direct payment program in favor of a program that uses crop insurance and revenue loss protection as the foundation of a safety net to help Nebraska farmers and ranchers when needed. The Senate's focus on maintaining a strong crop insurance program is critical to farmers and ranchers that face challenges posed by Mother Nature, as well as other risks that go well beyond their control."
Nelson said the move to end direct payments comes as farmers are seeing more prosperous times and the federal budget needs to be trimmed.
"It's not really sell-able to the general public that we have direct payments with the good times that we've had, I think part of it comes back to the budget issues we've talked about. That it's really important that we deal with the fiscal problems that we have in the nation as well."
The legislation now goes to the GOP-led House, which is likely to seek deeper cuts in food stamps.
Steve Nelson said, "The House has a lot of similar ideas or concepts in mind to what are in the Senate, but they also have quite a few provisions of their own, so it's likely there will be some fairly significant differences between the House version and the Senate version."
In a statement Thursday Senator Mike Johanns said, "This is a reform-minded, market-oriented farm bill that represents a positive step in our nation’s ag policy,” Johanns said. “Given our daunting budget situation, it is appropriate this bill saves more than $23 billion - a step in the right direction in dealing with our debt – while helping to mitigate the risks producers face.”
“I will continue to be involved as the farm bill advances through Congress and hopefully to the President’s desk for his signature very soon.”
Meanwhile Chuck Hassebrook from the Centers for Rural Affairs in Nebraska had this to say in a statement, "The farm bill that passed the Senate today funds beginning farmer and rancher training, small business loans and assistance, grants and loans for small town water and sewer systems and value-added enterprise grants for family farmers and ranchers. These are vitally important steps forward for rural America.”
But the Center for Rural Affairs also found real flaws in the Senate’s Farm Bill. According to Hassebrook, the bill’s greatest weakness is that there is no limit on crop insurance premium subsidies doled out to the nation’s largest farms.
Hassebrook added, “More than 10,000 large farms received over $100,000 in premium subsidies last year - a year of record income. This bill will continue over-subsidizing crop insurance premiums for wealthy and powerful agribusiness interests, helping them drive out small, mid-sized and beginning farmers."
Hassebrook went on to say, “However, the bill does close loopholes in the cap on traditional farm program payments to large farms, requires recipients of crop insurance premium subsidies to practice some conservation and denies premium subsidies on native grasslands broken out for crops."