Farm Bill, Passed by Senate, Awaits White House Signature

<p>The Senate Agriculture Committee hailed the farm bill as &quot;the most significant reform of American agriculture policy in decades&quot;.</p>

WASHINGTONThe five-year farm bill is headed to the White House after the U.S. Senate approved the legislation by a vote of 68 to 32. The House passed the bill last month.

The Senate Agriculture Committee hailed the farm bill as "the most significant reform of American agriculture policy in decades".

President Obama is expected to sign the nearly $1 trillion package.

"This bill provides certainty to America's farmers and ranchers, and contains a variety of commonsense reforms that my Administration has consistently called for, including reforming and eliminating direct farm subsidies and providing assistance for farmers when they need it most," the president said in a statement. "It will continue reducing our deficits without gutting the vital assistance programs millions of hardworking Americans count on to help put food on the table for their families. And it will support conservation of valuable lands, spur the development of renewable energy, and incentivize healthier nutrition for all Americans."

The legislation will end direct payments to farmers. Lawmakers said the payments were unfair because the agriculture industry received them whether they needed them or not.

Congress also addressed abuse and fraud in the gargantuan Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and consolidated nearly 100 programs or authorizations.

"While no legislation is perfect, this bill is a strong investment in American agriculture and supports the continued global leadership of our farmers and ranchers," U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, noted the farm bill represents "one of the largest investments in land and water conservation we've made in many years."

According to the Organic Trade Association (OTA), the legislation give organic farmers access to the same agriculture research and promotion programs as conventional farmers. The legislation also provides increased funding for the National Organic Program to enforce organic standards, improve technology, negotiate international trade agreements and support organic research and data collection, the OTA said.

Commenting on the farm bill, American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said, "We are particularly pleased with provisions to provide risk management to fruit and vegetable farmers and to support livestock farmers during disasters."

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said last month direct spending authorized by programs under the legislation would total $956 billion over 10 years, with nutrition programs eating up $756 billion. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, SNAP assists 47 million Americans each month.

The farm bill is said to make the first changes to SNAP since 1996. Some reforms including closing a loophole that artificially boosts benefit levels, establishing a 10-state pilot program to engage adults in mandatory work programs and verifying that food-stamp recipients are not receiving benefits in multiple states.

According to the CBO, the farm bill would yield savings of $14.3 billion in commodity programs and $8 billion in nutrition programs from 2014 through 2023.

Lawmakers maintain the legislation will actually reduce the deficit by $23 billion. But that only amounts to slightly more than 2% from farm bill spending, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC).

Excluding nutrition, crop insurance accounts for 45% of farm bill spending, followed by conservation (28%), commodity programs (23%) and everything else (4%), NSAC stated today in a blog.

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