Senate Farm Bill Passes
December 30, 2007
Senate Farm Bill Passes
Earlier this month, the Senate passed a $286-billion farm bill, expanding subsidies and food stamps. Although an earlier version of the bill contained an amendment designed to cut back on the nation’s federal crop insurance program, the current version of the bill expands subsidies for wheat, barley, oat, soybeans and more. And it creates new grants for the vegetable and fruit industry.
Subsidies aside, the Senate bill is more conservation-friendly than previously expected. The new Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) will allow 13.3 million acres of land to be enrolled each year through a nationwide enrollment and ranking system, along with a $2 billion grant to restore agricultural wetlands over the next five years. There’s even $80 million for Organic Farming Research, along with assistance for facilitating the transition to organic agriculture. The House version of the bill had previously stripped away this funding for environmental programs, and the two chambers will meet in January to battle out the details.
The bill also increases loan rates for sugar producers and extends dairy programs. Additionally, a new disaster title is included to help growers deal with natural disasters. Millions are reserved for bio-refinery development and biomass research too, and farmers will be given money to grow crops that can be used to make alternative fuels. Another change is in livestock reforms. The Senate bill takes steps to stop the use of unfair contract practices from meatpackers.
Passing with an overwhelming 79-14 vote, the Senate bill does limit subsidies somewhat by banning payments to those who earn more than $750,000 a year. The House bill has a similar limit of $1 million a year or more. However, the Bush administration has already threatened to veto both bills. They would like to see payments reduced to those who earn an average of $200,000 annually. Currently, the cap is at $2.5 million.
Expansion in the area of food systems research is included as well. The bill requires the Secretary of Agriculture to appoint researchers to study the community, economic, health and nutrition, environmental, food safety and food security impacts of local and regional food systems.
Both the House and Senate bills require meats and other fresh foods to be labeled with their country-of-origin (COOL) starting in 2008. The Senate version requires retailers to provide COOL for beef, lamb, pork and goat meat, fruits and vegetables, fish, macadamia nuts and peanuts (goat meat and macadamia nuts were added as compared to the House bill). For perishable commodities, a label denoting a State, region or locality as identity of U.S. origin will suffice.
The program authorizes $50 million in grants for food banks and other entities for the purpose of reducing hunger. Food stamp benefits will be increased to keep up with the cost of living.
For a summary of the bill and the bill’s full text, visit Idaho Senator Mike Crapo’s website at: http://crapo.senate.gov/issues/ag/farm_bill.cfm.