U.S. Senate approves $955 billion farm bill

The U.S. Senate on Monday approved a five-year farm bill by a 66-27 vote, with U.S. Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Boozman, R-Ark., voting for the legislation that would cut $4 billion over 10 years from the food stamp program.

Boozman was one of 15 Republicans to join with Democrats in voting for the legislation.

The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 (S 954) is the Senate’s idea for what should replace the existing farm bill set to expire Sept. 30. The U.S. House version seeks cuts of almost $40 billion, with $20.5 billion coming out of the food stamp program. The Senate bill reduces spending by more than $23 billion. The Senate version projects about $955 billion in spending over 10 years, and the House version projects about $940 billion over the period.

“The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act reforms, eliminates and streamlines numerous programs, saving taxpayers $23 billion. It does this while strengthening the tools available to producers to help manage risks and conserve natural resources,” noted a statement from U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Pryor said the “fair and equitable” bill includes provisions to help Arkansas agriculture interests.

“My bio-preferred provision within the bill ensures that timber farmers have a greater advantage in today’s global marketplace. We’ve also inserted strong market protections for southern farmers, and kept the catfish inspection program intact so our food’s safe and healthy. All in all, this is a win for Arkansas,” Pryor said in a statement.

Boozman, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the bill is “a great example of Democrats and Republicans working together.”
 
“Considering that agriculture is Arkansas’s top industry, passage of a farm bill is vital to our state’s economic recovery. Like any other business, Arkansas’s agricultural producers need certainty to be able to make important planting, purchasing and hiring decisions,” Boozman said in his statement. “A five-year farm bill will give our family farmers and ranchers the confidence to move forward with those decisions, and in turn, create jobs and opportunities in our communities.”

Although the Senate and House bills are far apart on deficit reduction plans, food stamp support and other major components, Boozman said he is “optimistic” that a compromise bill will be drafted and approved by both chambers.

Large items in the Senate farm bill include almost $761 billion for 10 years of food stamps and nutrition programs, about $90 billion for crop insurance over 10 years, more than $58 billion for conservation programs and more than $41 billion in commodity protections. One of the commodity protection programs seeks to reduce the negative impact on farmers from price fluctuations – primarily price shifts among row crop goods.

Following are other provisions of the Senate-approved bill. (Info from a summary provided by Stabenow’s office.)
• Direct Payments, Counter-Cyclical Payments (CCPs), the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) Program, and the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments (SURE) Program are repealed at the end of the 2012 crop year, creating $16 billion in savings for deficit reduction.

• Any person or entity with an adjusted gross income (AGI) of more than $750,000 will be ineligible for payments from Title I Farm Bill programs, which are now capped at $50,000 per entity. This bill also ensures that payments go to those farmers with an active stake in the farming operation.

• The Department of Agriculture will receive additional funds to prevent trafficking of food assistance benefits and to strengthen retailer program integrity.

• Requires participating retailers to stock more staple foods like fruits and vegetables and gives USDA the ability to exclude stores like liquor stores that do not fulfill the mission of the program, while preserving food access for participants.

• Local food banks are struggling to provide enough food to needy families in their area. The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) helps supplement the diets of low-income individuals by providing emergency food and nutrition assistance, largely through food banks.

• The bill continues the Beginning Farmer program, which develops and offers education, training, outreach and mentoring programs to ensure the success of the next generation of farmers. The bill expands eligibility to include military veterans who wish to begin a career in agriculture. The bill provides $85 million in mandatory funding for this program.

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Link here for Stabenow’s PDF summary of the legislation approved by the Senate.

Also, link here for C-Span video of Monday’s Senate vote.

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