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Senate committee debates farm bill

Ranking member Stabenow says improving dairy component of bill was priority.

The Senate Agriculture Committee approved the farm bill compiled by committee Chairman Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, and Ranking Member Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, on a 20-1 vote this morning, sending the bill to the Senate floor. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell intends to bring the bill up for a floor vote prior to the July 4 recess.

Members praised the bill, S. 3042, saying it wasn’t perfect, but it was a bipartisan effort. Roberts said it contains 66 amendments submitted by committee members. He called it the "best bill possible."

The debate was decidedly more bipartisan than the farm bill debate in the House Agriculture Committee.

“Over the past year and a half, we’ve put our political differences aside and focused on listening to people who have a stake in the Farm Bill,” said Stabenow in her opening statement. “From farmers and rural leaders, to conservationists and food advocates: we heard loud and clear that they need the certainty of a five-year Farm Bill.”

Stabenow said making improvements to the bill’s dairy component was one of her priorities.

“In addition to the $1.1 billion we secured in the Bipartisan Budget Act, we replaced the Margin Protection Program with “Dairy Risk Coverage,” and invested an additional $100 million to improve affordability and flexibility,” she said.

Other issues she raised include:

  • Risk management
  • The importance of a strong safety net
  • New support for veterans
  • Permanent investments for beginning farmers and socially disadvantaged producers
  • Investments in farmers markets and local food systems
  • Mandatory funding for international trade 

Amendments

Among the amendments considered by the committee:

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., introduced an amendment to open trade with Cuba. It was adopted on a voice vote.

Sens. Bob Casey, D-Penn., and Jodi Ernst, R-Iowa, introduced an amendment to increase funding set aside for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers in working lands conservation programs.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, offered an amendment to strengthen farmland conservation easements.

Sen Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., offered an amendment to improve the Transition Incentives Program to facilitate the transfer of farmland between retiring landowners and beginning, socially disadvantaged and veteran farmers and ranchers.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, offered an amendment to create a micro-EQIP pilot program to improve access to EQIP for young and small-scale farmers and ranchers.

Farm group commentary

“We’re encouraged by a number of amendments that were approved today that will strengthen the bill,” said National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson. “Refunding dairy Margin Protection Program premium payments made between 2015-2017, restoring funding for bio-based programs, and removing separate payment limits for organic producers in EQIP, will all help struggling producers.”

“Today, members of the Senate Agriculture Committee are thinking like real farmers— with purpose, seriousness, and a deadline,” said Lindsey Lusher Shute, co-founder and executive director, National Young Farmer Coalition. “They recognize the stakes and consequences of this farm bill, and they’re looking beyond politics to get the job done.”

“We applaud the spirit of cooperation shown in today’s 20-1 vote, and are eager to see that carry through on the floor of the Senate in the coming days,” said American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall. “The American Farm Bureau Federation thanks Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow for bringing this important legislation forward. Farmers and ranchers are counting on our lawmakers to come together and pass the farm bill soon, followed quickly by the president’s signature.”

“Soy growers and farmers across the country are in need of certainty during this time of low crop prices and volatile conditions affecting export markets,” said ASA Vice President and Kentucky soybean farmer Davie Stephens. “The Senate Committee’s action today takes us one step closer to completing the farm bill this year, providing much needed stability across the countryside.”

What others are saying:

In a video, the Food and Environment Reporting Network explains what is in the legislation that shapes the nation’s food, farm and anti-hunger programs. – Mother Jones

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley wants to close loopholes in the farm bill that allow remote landowners to claim government subsidies. – Daily Signal

TAGS: Farm Policy
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