Chairwoman Stabenow Announces Bipartisan Agreement on Final Farm Bill

Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—January 28, 2014. U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, yesterday announced a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on a five-year Farm Bill that will reform farm programs, reduce the deficit, and help farmers and businesses create jobs in agriculture, our state’s second-largest industry. The bill includes major reforms like eliminating the direct payment subsidy program, streamlining and consolidating other programs, and cracking down on fraud and misuse. The bill also invests in initiatives to help strengthen Michigan’s fruit and vegetable industries, increase American agriculture exports, and help family farmers sell more goods locally. Additionally, the bill includes disaster assistance for Michigan’s cherry growers and other specialty crop producers who were hit hard by freezes and other bad weather in recent years.

The bipartisan agreement could be voted on by the House as early as this week. The Senate could then vote on the bill as early as next week.

“Today’s bipartisan agreement brings us closer than ever to enacting a five-year Farm Bill that saves taxpayers billions, eliminates unnecessary subsidies, and helps farmers and business owners create jobs,” said Stabenow. “This bill proves that by working across party lines we can save taxpayer money while at the same time strengthening efforts helping to create jobs. Agriculture has been a bright spot in our economy and is helping to drive our country’s economic recovery. It’s time for Congress to finish this Farm Bill to provide certainty for the farmers and business owners growing Michigan’s second-largest industry.”

Agriculture is critical to Michigan’s economy:

• Agriculture is Michigan’s second-largest industry.

• Agriculture supports nearly one in four jobs in Michigan.

• Agriculture exports are a bright spot in Michigan’s continuing economic recovery.

• Michigan is second in the nation in crop diversity, growing more variety of crops than any other state but California.

The 2014 Farm Bill:

• Eliminates unnecessary direct payment subsidies, a significant reform in American agriculture policy. Direct payments are paid out every year whether or not there is a need for support.

• Ends programs that are no longer working and consolidates duplicative programs, eliminating 100 programs or authorizations in total.

• Strengthens crop insurance and makes it available to Michigan’s specialty crop growers, like cherry and blueberry growers.

• Includes Senator Stabenow’s Grow it Here, Make it Here initiative to create new jobs in biomanufacturing (manufacturing using raw agricultural products grown in America).

• Helps farmers and ranchers create jobs and provides certainty for the 16 million Americans working in agriculture.

• Achieves savings in food assistance by stopping fraud and misuse while maintaining support for families in need.

• Streamlines and strengthens conservation efforts critical to Michigan, including a new Great Lakes Regional Partnership to help preserve the Great Lakes.

• Cuts unnecessary spending. The Senate and House Agriculture Committees are the only Congressional committees to produce bipartisan legislation cutting spending in their own jurisdiction.

Ending Direct Payments

The 2014 Farm Bill framework saves taxpayer dollars by finally ending direct payment subsidies and other farm subsidy programs.

This represents a landmark shift in federal agriculture policy:

“If signed into law, the subsidy cuts would mark one of the biggest changes to farm policy in years.” – The Wall Street Journal [6/7/12]

The Farm Bill is “genuinely a landmark shift … away from direct cash payments to farmers – a much-criticized system begun in the mid-90s – and toward a more market-oriented approach keyed to crop insurance … The stakes are big: a bipartisan bill promising real savings and impacting an important part of the economy.” – Politico [6/12/12]

Ending direct payments “represents one of the biggest policy changes in generations.” – Bloomberg [4/26/2012]

Strengthening Responsible Risk Management

Instead of providing direct payments, which were paid every year whether they were needed or not, the 2014 Farm Bill provides farmers with responsible risk management tools that provide support only when there is a need – when disaster strikes or prices drop. The bill strengthens risk management tools like crop insurance to ensure farmers are not wiped out by weather disasters, and protects Americans from sudden spikes in food prices. Farmers pay into crop insurance every year, ensuring they share in the cost of disaster relief. Having an effective crop insurance program in place also reduces the need for Congress to pass ad hoc disaster bills.

The Farm Bill expands crop insurance protection for fruit growers who have not traditionally had access to it. The bill provides disaster relief to farmers who did not have access to crop insurance and were hit by weather disaster in recent years (such as Michigan fruit growers who saw crops wiped out by spring freezes in 2012).

The bill also creates a permanent livestock disaster assistance program, and retroactively covers producers who were affected by the recent droughts and winter storms on the northern plains this year.

Specialty Crops/ Fruits & Vegetables

The bipartisan Farm Bill strengthens programs for farmers producing “specialty crops” like cherries, apples, blueberries and asparagus, a significant portion of Michigan’s farmers. Along with expanding crop insurance to many fruit and vegetable growers for the first time and providing disaster relief, the Farm Bill also strengthens specialty crop block grants to invest in research and promotion of specialty crops, provides funding to help stop pest and disease threats, helps family farmers sell more goods locally, continues assistance to organic producers, and expands efforts to improve access to healthy foods in urban and low-income communities and in schools.

Streamlining Programs, Strengthening Conservation

The bipartisan Farm Bill is one of the most important conservation bills passed in years. Conservation is critical for Michigan, the Great Lakes and our way of life. Farmers have an important role to play in protecting our land and water. From preventing fertilizer runoff into waterways to managing fish and wildlife populations on their land, growers and ranchers serve as stewards of the land.

The 2014 Farm Bill consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13 – while maintaining existing tools to protect and conserve our land, water and wildlife. This approach is supported by nearly 650 conservation organizations from all 50 states. The bill also includes a landmark conservation compliance agreement, which will ensure crop insurance remains strong while conserving millions of acres of vulnerable lands and natural resources that our nation’s farmers and ranchers will rely on for generations to come. These reforms increase resources for top priorities, like the new Great Lakes Regional Partnership, while reducing the deficit.

Ending Fraud and Misuse in Food Assistance Programs, Protecting Benefits for Families

It’s critical that every food assistance dollar go to families in need. The bipartisan Farm Bill agreement stops fraud and misuse to achieve savings in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, a.k.a. “food stamps”) while maintaining critical assistance for families that need temporary support. The Farm Bill stops lottery winners from continuing to receive assistance (as was seen in high-profile cases in Michigan in recent years), cracks down on benefit trafficking, and closes a loophole being used by some states to artificially inflate benefits for a small number of recipients. The Farm Bill also provides new pilot programs to help people secure employment through job training and other services, giving them the resources necessary to earn a sustainable income.

Growing the Agriculture Economy

The bipartisan Farm Bill agreement reduces the deficit while strengthening top priorities that help to grow the agriculture economy. The Farm Bill:

• Boosts export opportunities to help farmers find new global markets for their goods.

• Helps family farmers sell locally, increasing support for farmers’ markets and spurring the creation of food hubs to connect farmers to schools and other community-based organizations.

• Supports beginning farmers with training and access to capital and creates initiatives to help veterans start agriculture businesses.

• Grows American biomanufacturing.

• 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 new agricultural innovations.

• Strengthens rural development initiatives to help rural communities upgrade infrastructure and create a better environment for businesses