"We've got a bill that makes sense, works for farmers and ranchers
and consumers and families that need help, and protects our land and
water and our wildlife," Debbie Stabenow, chair of the Senate
Agriculture Committee, told Reuters.
The Michigan Democrat said she was optimistic that the bill would
pass both chambers of Congress.
The agreement on a new five-year bill came after lawmakers spent
weeks ironing out differences over food stamps, dairy price supports
and other issues contained in earlier House and Senate legislation.
The bill affects about 16 million jobs in the country's agricultural
sector and can have an impact on the business landscape for major
agricultural companies. It is expected to save about $24 billion
over 10 years, compared with current funding — less than many
pundits, and especially conservative Republicans, had hoped for.
The final price tag over a decade is expected to be close to $1
trillion — too high for some lawmakers.
"I did not sign the 2014 Farm Bill conference report," tweeted Pat
Roberts, the three-term Republican senator from Kansas. "I cannot
march backwards and deliver more spending, more regulations and more
The 949-page conference agreement will be brought up for a vote in
the House of Representatives "as early as this week," according to a
statement from Stabenow. The House will probably take action before
its Republican leadership leaves town late on Wednesday for a policy
A vote in the Senate could come as early as next week, Stabenow
said. If both chambers pass the bill, it would go to President
Barack Obama for his signature.
The White House threatened last year to veto any bill that contained
deep cuts, advocated by House Republicans, to the Supplemental
Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps.
Congressional aides have said that the bipartisan agreement would
include about $9 billion in cuts over a decade, about a one-percent
cut, mostly by closing a loophole. That was well below the $40
billion cut advocated by the House, which would have been the
largest reduction in a generation, but it was still double the
amount originally supported by Senate Democrats.
Food stamp savings "are reached without removing anyone" from the
program, according to a statement from the offices of the four major
farm bill negotiators.
Anti-hunger groups and some Democrats, including Connecticut Rep.
Rosa DeLauro, decried the cuts.
With congressional elections looming in November, Obama has
highlighted social safety-net programs such as food stamps and
unemployment insurance as a way to combat the widening income gap in
the United States.
The massive legislation contained provisions on everything from an
initiative to help beginning farmers and ranchers get a foothold in
the business, to funding for research into chronic wasting disease
in deer, to biofuels and organic farming.
Lawmakers attempted to take aim at duplicitous programs, and were
able, for example, to shrink 23 existing conservation programs into
The last farm bill, which passed in 2008, expired in September after
being extended for one year while negotiators ironed out differences
between measures approved in the House and Senate.
[to top of second column]
DIRECT SUBSIDIES GO, COOL STAYS
Stabenow lauded the end of so-called direct payment subsidies, which
for years have been doled out to farmers and landowners — to the
tune of some $5 billion a year — regardless of whether or not there
is a need for support, and whether or not they actually grew crops.
Instead, agricultural producers will be provided with stronger tools
to manage risk. The bill also will establish permanent disaster
assistance for livestock producers.
"We started at the beginning saying we were going to do away with
direct payments, and save billions and instead put it into risk
management to support farmers with crop insurance and disaster
assistance. We've done that," Stabenow said.
The American Soybean Association, a group that lobbies for the
interests of soybean growers, said the "flexible farm safety net"
was a positive development for its members.
"The bill established practical risk-management programs that will
protect us in difficult times," said Ray Gaesser, president of the
ASA and a farmer from Corning, Iowa.
Despite last-minute lobbying from the meat industry, so-called
country of origin labeling (COOL) remained in the bill. The
provision requires meat to be labeled as to where animals are born,
grown and processed.
COOL backers, including consumer groups and ranchers, say consumers
have a right to know where their meat originates. U.S. meatpackers
say the law imposes unnecessary costs on the industry and violates
free trade provisions.
Retaining COOL will provide cattle producers with certainty in
planning, including the U.S. Cattlemen's Association, said President
Jon Wooster, a San Lucas, California, rancher.
One of the bigger hurdles in the final negotiations was government
support for dairy farmers.
The legislation does not include a provision called supply
management, which was championed by Representative Collin Peterson
of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee.
His proposal would have required dairy farmers to cut production if
prices fell below a certain level.
House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican who has ridiculed the dairy
program as "Soviet-style," opposed Peterson's position and refused
to bring a bill to the House floor with supply management in it.
Peterson was philosophical on Monday.
"While it's no secret that I do not support some of the final bill's
provisions, I believe my reservations are outweighed by the need to
provide long-term certainty for agriculture and nutrition programs,"
To read the entire bill, the Agricultural Act of 2014,
click here. (PDF)
(Additional reporting by David Lawder; writing by Ros Krasny;
editing by Sandra Maler, Peter Cooney, Jan Paschal and Ken Wills)
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