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A bipartisan agreement on a five-year farm bill was reached by members of the House and Senate, bringing an end to months of uncertainty for farmers and agriculture workers.
Key provisions of the Agricultural Act of 2014 – which will be brought before the House of Representatives for a final vote on Weds., Jan. 29, and next to a Senate vote before sending it to President Obama – keeps food stamp benefits for most Americans. However, the bill will cut food stamp benefits by about $800 million per year, or around 1 percent, and also contains major reforms, including eliminating the direct payment program, streamlining and consolidating numerous programs, and cutting down on program misuse.
The bill also strengthens support of farmers and ranchers affected by natural disasters or significant economic losses, and renews a national commitment to protect land, water and other natural resources.
“The 2014 Farm Bill contains provisions that are the most significant government investment ever in the competitiveness of the fruit and vegetable industry,” said Tom Stenzel, president/CEO, United Fresh Produce Association, which is launching a grassroots campaign calling on produce industry leaders from across the country to contact their members of Congress to encourage them to vote "yes" on the Agricultural Act of 2014.
“This bill is a milestone, but the bill has not yet passed, so there is still work for produce industry leaders to do in encouraging members of Congress to vote ‘yes’ on the Farm Bill,” added Robert Guenther, United's SVP of public policy. “This is not an easy vote, so we need an aggressive effort right now from the fresh produce industry.”
Bipartisan-lawmaker bill sponsors also asked their colleagues for support. “I am proud of our efforts to finish a farm bill conference report with significant savings and reforms,” said Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. “We are putting in place sound policy that is good for farmers, ranchers, consumers, and those who have hit difficult times.”
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the bipartisan pact “puts us on the verge of enacting a five-year Farm Bill that saves taxpayers billions, eliminates unnecessary subsidies, creates a more effective farm safety-net and helps farmers and businesses create jobs.” Calling agriculture “a bright spot in our economy [that] is helping to drive our recovery,” Stabenow called on Congress “to finish this Farm Bill and give the 16 million Americans working in agriculture the certainty they need and deserve.”
Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, also called on fellow lawmakers to urgently consider and enact the bill, which he said, “reflects a lot of hard work and conscientious effort to help strengthen American agriculture and assure consumers of food and fiber that it is nutritious and affordable. The reforms, savings and other significant changes in this agreement will provide greater certainty to producers and rural communities, as well as American consumers.”
Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, said the deal represents a sign of bi-partisan progress. "I am pleased that we were able to work together, putting aside partisanship to finally advance a five-year farm bill,” said Peterson. “Compromise is rare in Washington these days but it’s what is needed to actually get things done. While it’s no secret that I do not support some of the final bill’s provisions,” he added, “I believe my reservations are outweighed by the need to provide long term certainty for agriculture and nutrition programs. This process has been going on far too long; I urge my colleagues to support this bill and the President to quickly sign it into law."
The Agricultural Act of 2014 Overview
Enacting the Agricultural Act of 2014 will reform agriculture programs, reduce the deficit, and help farmers, ranchers and business owners grow the economy. The legislation:
- Repeals the direct payment program and strengthens risk management tools
- Repeals outdated programs and consolidates duplicative ones, eliminating nearly 100 programs or authorizations
- Helps farmers and ranchers create jobs and provides certainty for the 16 million Americans working in agriculture
- Strengthens conservation efforts to protect land, water and wildlife for future generations
- Maintains food assistance for families while addressing fraud and misuse in SNAP
- Reduces the deficit by billions of dollars in mandatory spending
Ends Direct Payments, Strengthens Risk Management
The Agricultural Act of 2014 reforms farm programs and saves taxpayer dollars by ending direct payments and other farm programs. The bill provides risk management tools that help American farmers and ranchers survive weather disasters and market volatility.
The bill also strengthens crop insurance, which is an essential cost-effective risk management tool. With crop insurance, farmers invest in their own risk management by purchasing insurance policies so they are protected in difficult times. Crop insurance also helps protect Americans from spikes in food prices. Without crop insurance farmers would have no way to recover from disaster unless the government steps in and provides unplanned disaster assistance. The effectiveness of crop insurance was underscored during the historic droughts of 2012, which impacted more than 80 percent of the country. Crop insurance protected farmers without the need for an emergency disaster relief bill.
Additionally, the bill provides a permanent livestock disaster assistance program for producers affected by natural disasters, and also covers producers who were affected by recent droughts, winter storms that hit the Northern Plains last year, and spring freezes that affected fruit growers in the Midwest.
Streamlines Programs, Strengthens Conservation
The Agricultural Act of 2014 consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13 programs while strengthening tools to protect and conserve land, water and wildlife. By streamlining programs, the farm bill provides added flexibility and ensures conservation programs are working for producers in the most effective and efficient way – an approach supported by nearly 650 conservation organizations from all 50 states.
Protects SNAP for Families, Reduces Fraud and Misuse
The bipartisan farm bill conference agreement maintains critical assistance for families while stopping fraud and misuse to achieve savings in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The farm bill agreement closes a loophole being used by some states to artificially inflate benefits for a small number of recipients. Additionally, the bipartisan agreement stops lottery winners from continuing to receive assistance, increases program efficiency, cracks down on trafficking, fraud and misuse, and invests in new pilot programs to help people secure employment through job training and other services. Savings in this section are reached without removing anyone from the SNAP program, and will ensure that every person receives the benefits they are intended to get under the current rules of the program.
Grows the Agricultural Economy
The Agricultural Act of 2014 reduces the deficit while strengthening top priorities that help to grow the agricultural economy. The bill:
- Boosts export opportunities to help farmers find new global markets for their goods
- Continues investments to meet growing consumer demand for fresh fruits and vegetables, local foods and organics by helping family farmers sell locally, increasing support for farmers’ markets, and connecting farmers to schools and other community-based organizations
- Supports beginning farmers and ranchers with training and access to capital
- Invests in state-run pilot projects to encourage and incentivize employment and training opportunities for families in need
- Creates initiatives to help veterans start agriculture businesses
- Grows American bio-based manufacturing (manufacturing processes using raw agricultural products grown in America)
- Expands bio-energy production, supporting non-food based advanced biomass energy production such as cellulosic ethanol and woody biomass power
- Invests in research to promote productivity and new agricultural innovations
- Strengthens rural development initiatives to help rural communities upgrade infrastructure and create a better environment for small businesses
- Increases assistance for food banks
- Reduces regulatory barriers