By a vote of 64-35, the Senate passed a Farm Bill on Thursday that Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said sets a new policy direction for American agriculture, “This Farm Bill is the most significant reform to farm programs in decades—it cuts spending, ends subsidies, improves accountability and strengthens healthy food systems. This bill was developed through bipartisan collaboration, passed committee with broad bipartisan support, and we have now passed a bipartisan bill that supports 16 million American jobs.” The new Farm Bill is unique in several ways. It ends the era of direct government payments; it reduces the cost of farm programs; and it passed a politically polarized Senate with bipartisan support.
Ag Committee Ranking Member Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas pointed out during floor debate that the farm Bill stands as a shining example of what Washington can do when politics are pushed aside, “We passed this bill out of committee in 4 hours and worked through over 70 amendments on the Senate floor in 2 and a half days, that’s a new record. It is what can happen when we break the logjam of partisanship and work together to get something done.”
Both Indiana Senators voted in favor of the legislation. Senator Lugar, who cast his last farm bill vote, said in a statement, “I applaud the reform efforts included in the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act. There are a number of provisions of this bill that I advocated as part of my own Rural Economic Farm and Ranch Sustainability and Hunger (REFRESH) Act.” Senator Coats said, “Hoosier farmers and agricultural producers are among the best in the world and this bill ensures they will have the certainty they need to maintain and expand operations over the next five years.”
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made the following statement on the U.S. Senate’s approval of the Farm Bill: “I’m very pleased that the Senate acted in bipartisan spirit today to approve the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act. I am grateful for the Senate’s progress toward providing a reformed safety net for producers in times of need, supporting agricultural research and trade promotion, honoring World Trade Organization commitments, furthering the bio-based economy, conserving our natural resources, strengthening local and regional food systems, and promoting job growth in rural America.”
While troubled by some of the details of the Senate bill, most farm organizations praised the quick passage of the legislation. The Farm Bill includes many provisions that are good for Indiana farmers and provides a valuable safety net, according to Indiana Farm Bureau President Don Villwock, “We will continue to work with the House to get the best bill possible for farmers across the state.” “While no farm bill is perfect, this is a solid bill that was worthy of Senate approval,” noted American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman. “Farmers throughout Illinois – and the United States – depend on the Farm Bill to help provide stability and manage risk in what is often a risky profession,” said Philip Nelson, president, Illinois Farm Bureau.
NCFC President Chuck Conner praised the Senate Bill, but cautioned there still is a long way to go, “We recognize that this is only one step in the process and that the Senate bill fails to provide an adequate safety net for producers in certain regions of the country, especially the South. As action turns towards the House and, eventually, a conference committee, NCFC looks forward to the continuing process of crafting a farm bill that is regionally balanced and able to garner broad support across commodities.”
“ASA is extremely pleased with the Senate’s legislation, which would establish an effective risk management program for soybean producers that complements crop insurance, consolidate conservation programs, and have agriculture do its fair share to help address our nation’s fiscal situation by reducing government spending on agriculture by $23 billion,” said ASA President Steve Wellman. “America’s farmers greatly appreciate the leadership and cooperative work by the Senate to pass the 2012 farm bill in a timely manner,” NCGA President Garry Niemeyer stated. “We would also like to thank Senators Stabenow and Roberts for their bipartisan efforts throughout the process.”
The focus now moves to the House which is likely to produce a bill sharply different from the Senate version. The real work will then begin in a conference committee that is facing a September deadline before the current farm Bill expires. U.S. House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson called for quick House action on the Farm Bill, “It is crucial that we finish the farm bill before the current bill expires in September. Waiting until the mess that will occur during the lame duck session will not only make it more difficult, but could also result in several unintended consequences. If the House Ag Committee passes a bipartisan bill in early July, House leadership will then have little choice but to bring the farm bill to the floor before the August recess. I’m continuing to work with Chairman Lucas and members of the Committee to make this happen.”
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