"It multi tasks," Obama said, describing how the law supports not
only farmers and ranchers but poor families on food stamps,
researchers working on biofuels, and businesses developing and
exporting new products from rural America.
Obama signed the bill — which the Congressional Budget Office says
will save $16.6 billion over 10 years compared to current funding — at Michigan State University, the oldest land-grant university in
the nation. Using a different measure, lawmakers have estimated the
savings at $23 billion.
Michigan is the home state of Senator Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of
the Senate Agriculture Committee, who was on hand for the signing
along with a small group of Democratic lawmakers and U.S.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The White House invited 50 lawmakers, including Republicans involved
in the years-long negotiation process that produced the final bill.
But in a sign of ongoing tensions with Obama, no Republican
The president noted the compromises involved in the legislation,
which runs to over 350 pages, and called the bill, passed with
bipartisan support, "a good sign."
He also urged lawmakers to keep the momentum going and pass bills to
reform immigration laws, extend unemployment insurance, and raise
the minimum wage.
The farm bill cut funding for food stamps to the poor by about $8
billion over 10 years, or about 1 percent — a measure decried as too
harsh by anti poverty groups and too generous by Republicans, who
sought even larger cuts.
Obama has made addressing the gap between rich and poor a major
policy focus for his administration this year.
USDA's Vilsack said there would be changes in the way his department
delivers food stamps, but downplayed the impact of the cuts, carved
out by cutting benefits to recipients who are also enrolled in a
federal heating assistance program.
"I would expect and anticipate not a significant impact on the
overall availability" of food stamps, he said.
Some 47.4 million Americans receive food stamps, according to USDA's
most recent figures. The CBO's analysis of the farm bill assumes a
$90 million reduction in food stamp funding for 2014 — which would
amount to about $2 per recipient, if cuts were spread equally — rising to $800 million in 2015.
The bill ended nearly $5 billion in annual automatic payments to
farmers and landowners, long criticized as a waste of taxpayer
money, and consolidated a variety of overlapping conservation
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The bill also expanded a crop insurance program for farmers and left
a host of other farm supports intact. It contained provisions on
everything from farmers markets to funding into chronic deer wasting
"The last five years have been the best five years in agriculture in
the history of the country," Vilsack told reporters traveling with
Obama, noting farm income has been at record highs as exports surge.
"Obviously we want to continue that momentum, and that required the
passage of a farm bill," Vilsack said.
Obama announced his administration would do more to work with small
rural businesses to connect them with potential investors and export
Before the bill signing, Obama and Vilsack donned safety glasses and
toured a pilot plant at the Michigan Biotechnology Institute, where
researchers were working on scaling up a process that compresses
waste material from corn crops into pellets to use for animal feed
or to make fuel.
The center, a subsidiary of the Michigan State University
Foundation, helps researchers and companies commercialize products
made from plant materials, such as polylactic acid, a biodegradable
material agricultural giant Cargill developed to make plastic bags.
The farm bill's energy title will provide $800 million in loan
guarantees over 10 years to small manufacturers and biorefineries,
Vilsack said, describing how soybeans are used in Ford car seats and
corn cobs are used in plastic soda bottles.
"There's just an amazing opportunity here to bring manufacturing
back," Vilsack said.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; editing by Ros Krasny and Chizu
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