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Farm bill finally signed

Feb. 11, 2014 | 0 comments


Pam Johnson was ready to spend several days visiting with members of the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association during their annual Corn/Soy Expo in Wisconsin Dells last week when she had to make emergency flight plans — she was invited to attend the signing of the farm bill Friday in Michigan.

After the long and winding road that led to passage of the bill, the president of the National Corn Growers Association wasn't going to miss seeing it signed into law.

After five years of negotiating, wrangling, elections and changes of political positions, the Agricultural Act of 2014, known to most as the farm bill, was finally signed by President Obama on Feb. 7 in East Lansing, MI at Michigan State University.

Michigan was chosen because it is the home of Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) one of the members of Congress who hammered out the bill following the formation of a House/Senate conference committee.

Stabenow is an alumna of MSU. The president signed the bill in front of a tractor and hay bales after commenting on the importance of agriculture to the U.S. economy.

The five-year $956-billion legislation, covers about that same number of pages. Among its key points is eliminating the direct payment program for crop producers and expanding crop insurance subsidies.

Some lawmakers put the savings in this bill at $23 billion — when sequestration savings are added in; a Congressional Budget Office report found savings of more like $16 billion over existing policies.

The final bill includes a variety of programs that weren't in farm programs before, including an expansion of crop insurance coverage for specialty fruit and vegetable crops — like the cherries grown in Michigan and Wisconsin.

From most of the nation's farm groups, the overall feeling was one of relief that the process was finally over.

"The president's signature brings closure to a long process of negotiations, sacrifice and compromise," said National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson.

"The result is a solid piece of legislation that provides an adequate safety net in times of need, aids the hungry, protects the environment, creates jobs, keeps Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) intact and helps bolster rural economies.

Johnson said the fact that the bill was finally signed means that we "now have certainty for our family farmers, ranchers, fishermen and hungry Americans."

Bob Stallman, president of American Farm Bureau Federation said it had "been a bumpy road for the farm bill over the past several years, with many twists and turns, but farmers never gave up nor lost momentum in working toward its passage.

"Farm Bureau believes this farm bill will give farmers and ranchers a measure of business certainty for this and coming years, allowing them to better manage risk while carrying out the important business of providing food and jobs for America."

Dairy program

The dairy program will move forward without the supply management provision that had been proposed after dairy farmers lost billions in equity when high feed costs and collapsing dairy markets coincided in 2009.

The supply management provision was removed near the end of the process.

National Milk Producers Federation, President and CEO Jim Mulhern said that the bill's signing means the "end of a long, tortured path leading to a new five-year farm bill. I believe the resulting dairy program will provide an effective and reasonable safety net, one that we have been striving to create these last many years.

"Whatever its shortcomings, it is far better than the programs it replaces," Mulhern added.

Other dairy leaders voiced similar sentiments.

"After five years of working toward a farm bill, we are thankful to have a new bill that replaces outdated dairy programs with an important risk management tool that will help the nation's dairy farm families maintain financial stability," said Dairy Farmers of America senior vice president John Wilson.

Wilson praised the tenacity of National Milk Producers Federation for pursing a new dairy policy throughout the process.

"The unified voice the dairy producer community expressed during this process is admirable," he added, "and while the final bill does not reflect the exact policy we had proposed, we achieved our goal of creating dairy policy that will better serve U.S. dairy farmers."

Last week Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind, a Democrat, was critical of parts of the final package, saying Congress had left many reforms on the table that could have made the measure less costly to taxpayers and more helpful to smaller and medium-sized farming operations.

Organic farming provisions

Still, at the bill's final passage he was happy with the new provisions in the measure that promote organic farming.

Kind, who represents western Wisconsin and the heart of Wisconsin's organic farming sector, co-chairs the Organic Caucus.

The bi-partisan group pushed for the farm bill to include funding for a number of important programs for organic farmers.

"I'm pleased we were able to reach bipartisan agreement on the importance of investing in the promise of organic agriculture and helping to meet the specific needs of our organic farmers," Kind said.

Among the provisions in the new farm law are new crop insurance provisions that will allow organic producers to insure their crops at prices consistent with their retail value, which will ensure that organic farmers are not disproportionately affected in case of crop failures, Kind said.

The new law also includes cost-share measures for farmers who want to transition to organic production methods. The Cost-Share Program should help small farmers and handlers offset a portion of the costs of annual organic certification.

Getting organic certification can be expensive for small producers and the assistance of this program may make transitioning attainable for more farmers and handlers. The final bill signed into law included renewal of this key program, Kind said.

The final bill contains increased funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) to help target research to crops and practices for organic growers.

The bill also contains the Organic Production Market and Data Initiative (ODI) to collect information vital to markets, increasing exports and creating risk management tools for organic products.

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