The current Farm Bill is set to expire at the end of September 2012 and will be voted on by the Senate in the next few weeks. It is a massive 1,000 page bill that will be in place for five-years. The bill affects everyone, including farmers, ranchers and consumers.
Last week there were over 80 amendments proposed to the current 2012 Farm Bill. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) submitted an amendment that would restore the proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, and to increase funding for the fresh fruit and vegetable program. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) proposed to add dried, canned and frozen foods to the fresh fruit and vegetable program.
A proposal to eliminate successful farmers market and local food promotion programs, was submitted by Senator. Pat Toomey (R-PA). Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) proposed to “replace the food stamp program with a block grant’, which would allow each state too much individual flexibility on how to disperse the funds, which won’t necessarily help those in need of food assistance. Senator Rand Paul’s (R-KY) amendment similarly proposes to allow states to have flexibility in administering their own food stamps is equally as dangerous. It is interesting to note that Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also submitted an amendment that repeals estate tax permanently – which has absolutely nothing to do with farming or food.
There are additional earmark amendments to the bill, including the prohibition of using “federal funds for political conventions”, as proposed by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), and an amendment by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) that has to do with the Department of Defense. According to Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), ranking member of the U.S. Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, “amendments that have nothing to do with agriculture do not belong in the farm bill and delay the Senate’s ability to get its job done.”  Senator McCain also proposed to repeal the so-called sugar program, which ends sugar subsidies and “restricts how much sugar can be imported from overseas.” According to a study from Iowa State University: “doing away with the sugar program could save American consumers $3.5 billion and create 20,000 more jobs a year in the food industry.” 
Key issues in the current Farm Bill continue to be Big Ag subsidies and crop insurance. Excessive crop insurance encourages farmers to plant in marginable land, making farming (mostly Big Ag) a no-risk business. It’s bad for the economy, taxpayers and the environment. In an interview on Newsmakers (C-SPAN)  Senator Stabenow stated that ‘change is hard’, and that they are working to reform the farm bill to a risk-based system. Farmers will still be protected in the way that they will still receive a discount on crop insurance rather than direct payment subsidies where there is no pay-out unless the crop suffers. Both Senator Stabenow and Sen Roberts (R-KS) consider it a fair bill for farmers.
Senator Stabenow also commented that there are a lot of people working together on this bill to ensure that it represents real people and that 16 million people in the U.S. have jobs because of the farm bill. The committee is working to get the bill passed, but are unsure of the timeline or if it will be done by the end of the summer. Senator Pat Roberts is hopeful that the new Farm Bill can be the bill where both sides of Congress can finally come together in a bi-partisan effort.  Once the bill passes the Senate, it then goes to the House of Representatives for a vote.
There’s still time to amend the farm bill before it passes.
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