FARM BILL..... Finally
Created by rrummel on 1/28/2014 10:05:15 AM

Agricultural Act of 2014

Farm Bill negotiators have announced a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on a five-year farm bill titled the Agricultural Act of 2014. According to a press release - the bill contains major reforms - including eliminating the direct payment program, streamlining and consolidating numerous programs to improve their effectiveness and reduce duplication and cutting down on program misuse. The press release states the bill also strengthens the nation’s commitment to support farmers and ranchers affected by natural disasters or significant economic losses and renews a national commitment to protect land, water and other natural resources. The agreement could still be voted on by the House this week. Based on statements made by House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor Monday - it appears they will whip members to vote for the farm bill. Both leaders expressed a level of disappointment with the lack of reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - but Boehner said the legislation is worthy of the House’s support. Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow suggested the Senate could vote as early as next week.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas says this measure is sound policy that is good for farmers, ranchers, consumers and those who have hit difficult times. He’s asking his colleagues to join him in supporting the bill’s passage. Stabenow says the agreement brings Congress closer than ever to enacting a five-year farm bill that saves taxpayers billions, eliminates unnecessary subsidies, creates a more effective farm safety net and helps farmers and business owners create jobs. She says the bill proves that by working across party lines taxpayer money can be saved while strengthening efforts that help to create jobs. Stabenow notes agriculture has been a bright spot in the economy and is helping to drive the nation’s economic recovery. She says it’s time to finish the farm bill to provide certainty for farmers and business owners.

Thad Cochran - Ranking Member of the Senate Ag Committee - says the reforms, savings and other significant changes in this agreement will provide greater certainty to producers and rural communities - as well as American consumers. He says it deserves to be considered and enacted as soon as possible. Admitting he doesn’t support some of the final bill’s provisions - House Agriculture Ranking Member Collin Peterson says his reservations are outweighed by the need to provide long term certainty for agriculture and nutrition programs. He’s urging his colleagues to support the bill and the President to quickly sign it into law.

Here is an overview of the Agricultural Act of 2014 as provided by the House-Senate Conference Committee:

Enacting the Agricultural Act of 2014 will reform agriculture programs, reduce the deficit, and help farmers, ranchers and business owners grow the economy. The legislation:

* Repeals the direct payment program and strengthens risk management tools

* Repeals outdated programs and consolidates duplicative ones, eliminating nearly 100 programs or authorizations

* Helps farmers and ranchers create jobs and provides certainty for the 16 million Americans working in agriculture

* Strengthens conservation efforts to protect land, water and wildlife for future generations

* Maintains food assistance for families while addressing fraud and misuse in SNAP

* Reduces the deficit by billions of dollars in mandatory spending

Ends Direct Payments, Strengthens Risk Management

The Agricultural Act of 2014 reforms farm programs and saves taxpayer dollars by ending direct payments and other farm programs. The bill provides risk management tools that help American farmers and ranchers survive weather disasters and market volatility.

The bill also strengthens crop insurance, which is an essential cost-effective risk management tool. With crop insurance, farmers invest in their own risk management by purchasing insurance policies so they are protected in difficult times. Crop insurance also helps protect Americans from spikes in food prices. Without crop insurance farmers would have no way to recover from disaster unless the government steps in and provides unplanned disaster assistance. The effectiveness of crop insurance was underscored during the historic droughts of 2012, which impacted more than 80% of the country. Crop insurance protected farmers without the need for an emergency disaster relief bill.

Additionally, the bill provides a permanent livestock disaster assistance program for producers affected by natural disasters, and also covers producers who were affected by recent droughts, winter storms that hit the Northern Plains last year, and spring freezes that affected fruit growers in the Midwest.

Streamlines Programs, Strengthens Conservation

The Agricultural Act of 2014 consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13 programs while strengthening tools to protect and conserve land, water and wildlife. By streamlining programs, the farm bill provides added flexibility and ensures conservation programs are working for producers in the most effective and efficient way – an approach supported by nearly 650 conservation organizations from all 50 states.

Protects SNAP for Families, Reduces Fraud and Misuse

The bipartisan farm bill conference agreement maintains critical assistance for families while stopping fraud and misuse to achieve savings in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The farm bill agreement closes a loophole being used by some states to artificially inflate benefits for a small number of recipients. Additionally, the bipartisan agreement stops lottery winners from continuing to receive assistance, increases program efficiency, cracks down on trafficking, fraud and misuse, and invests in new pilot programs to help people secure employment through job training and other services. Savings in this section are reached without removing anyone from the SNAP program, and will ensure that every person receives the benefits they are intended to get under the current rules of the program.

Grows the Agricultural Economy

The Agricultural Act of 2014 reduces the deficit while strengthening top priorities that help to grow the agricultural economy. The bill:

* Boosts export opportunities to help farmers find new global markets for their goods

* Continues investments to meet growing consumer demand for fresh fruits and vegetables, local foods and organics by helping family farmers sell locally, increasing support for farmers’ markets, and connecting farmers to schools and other community-based organizations

* Supports beginning farmers and ranchers with training and access to capital

* Increases assistance for food banks

* Reduces regulatory barriers

* Invests in state-run pilot projects to encourage and incentivize employment and training opportunities for families in need

* Creates initiatives to help veterans start agriculture businesses

* Grows American bio-based manufacturing (manufacturing processes using raw agricultural products grown in America)

* Expands bio-energy production, supporting non-food based advanced biomass energy production such as cellulosic ethanol and woody biomass power

* Invests in research to promote productivity and new agricultural innovations

* Strengthens rural development initiatives to help rural communities upgrade infrastructure and create a better environment for small businesses

Here are some of the key budget numbers provided to The Hagstrom Report by congressional aides:

* Program cuts total $33 billion, but $10 billion is plowed back into other programs, leaving savings in the bill at around $23 billion over 10 years. This meets the original goal House and Senate Ag committee leaders set out in the fall of 2011.

* Cuts from farm programs total $19 billion by ending direct payments and reducing Title I farm subsidy programs.

* Cuts from conservation programs total $6 billion by combining 23 programs into 13, increasing flexibility and emphasizing “top priorities.” The approach was supported by 650 conservation groups across the country.

* Cuts in nutrition programs total $8 billion by requiring states to make at least a $20 year payment for utility costs to trigger a higher food stamp payment and by eliminating food stamps for lottery winners and tightening up on qualifications for college students who get them.

* Increases in the following programs total $10 billion: crop insurance, research, promoting exports, support for specialty crops, bio-manufacturing, bio-energy, horticulture, rural development, etc.