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  Comments (7) Total Thursday Apr. 24, 2014
Farm Reform Plows Forward
After a two-year stalemate, federal farm subsidies bill moves toward final passage
Mark Siderius finishes smoothing and compacting a field before planting peas between Creston and Kalispell. - File photo by Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon
 The nearly trillion-dollar Farm Bill, a piece of legislation Congress undertakes every five years to mete out agricultural subsidies, set food policy and budget for food stamps, has been at an impasse for two years due to political gridlock.

As lawmakers on both sides of the aisle appeared on the verge of reaching a final agreement, the 2014 Farm Bill drew praise from Montana’s delegation and a collective sigh of relief from the U.S. agriculture industry, despite consensus among lawmakers that the bill is less than perfect.

The $956 billion bill includes spending on crop insurance and the supplemental nutrition assistance program, commonly called food stamps. It also saves more than $16 billion over the next decade, with half the cuts coming from the food stamp program. The $8 billion cut in food stamps would cause 850,000 households to lose around $90 a month in benefits, while 80 percent of the funding in the bill pays for nutritional programs.

President Barack Obama previously said he would veto any version of the bill that significantly cut the food stamps program. But the White House says he would approve the bill if it reaches his desk.

The bill also eliminates the direct payment program, which paid $5 billion a year to farmers regardless of whether they were raising crops at the time.

The Farm Bill received a thumbs-up from the U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 31, passing with a vote of 251-166 that included support from U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont. It was expected to head to the Senate floor early this week, when U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester say they would support it.

“Today’s long-overdue passage of a five-year Farm Bill is good news for Montana,” Daines stated last week. “Agriculture is not only an important part of Montana’s economy — it’s a critical industry that impacts each and every American. While not perfect, Montanans have been waiting far too long for Congress to pass a five-year Farm Bill, and I’m glad that the House and Senate have been able to reach agreement on this critical legislation. I am hopeful that the Senate and President will act quickly and get this bill signed into law so that we can provide Montana’s producers and rural communities with the certainty they deserve.”

The last Farm Bill expired in 2008, and since then Congress has been passing stop-gap legislation. This version of the bill is a longer-term fix.

Tester, a dry-land farmer from Big Sandy, met with representatives from the Montana Grain Growers Association to discuss the bill and other topics important to wheat and barley growers.

The final Farm Bill expands crop insurance for farmers and shifts the crop loss evaluation to the farm-level instead of the county-level, a measure that received support by the grain growers.

The Farm Bill includes numerous other Tester priorities, including extending Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) through 2014, as well as strong and permanent livestock disaster assistance programs. PILT compensates rural counties for federal lands they can’t tax and supports schools, roads and essential emergency services. Last year, 1,900 local counties, mostly in the west, received about $400 million last year under the program.

It also allows the U.S. Forest Service to lease up to five new large air tankers to combat wildfires.

The most significant change is the elimination of direct payments to farmers, a controversial program which paid farmers regardless of whether they grow crops.

“This Farm Bill will strengthen America’s farmers and ranchers. Agriculture drives economies in rural America, and this bipartisan measure gives our hard-working agriculture producers the certainty they need,” Tester said in a statement. “With strong support for production agriculture, savings for the taxpayer and important local aid included, it is long past time to send this bill to the president’s desk.”

As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Baucus secured victories for Montana in the bill, including permanent assistance for ranchers hit by drought and other disasters. He called the extension of the PILT program “critical.”

“This is our jobs bill and I’m proud we were able come together and move the Farm Bill out of the conference committee,” Baucus said. “The bill provides the certainty Montana farmers and ranchers need to continue putting food on tables across the globe. I’m calling on the Congress to quickly send the bill to the President’s desk so Montana farmers and ranchers aren’t left high and dry when disaster strikes.”

Lola Raska, vice president of the Montana Grain Growers Association, said the bill would lower the national debt while providing Montana grain producers with a safety net when mother nature or the market threatens their livelihoods.

“It’s been a long road and a lot of work to hash out the details of this new Farm Bill,” Raska said. “We applaud the House passage of this bill and eagerly anticipate the president’s signature so we can move to implementation of the new programs offered in this bill.”
On 02-09-14, bocephusj57 commented....
I can agree entirely with that post hotfish.
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